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New Transitions from Human Rights to the Environment to the Rights of Nature

  • Susana Borràs (a1)

The weaknesses of our environmental laws stem in large part from the fact that legal systems treat the natural world as property that can be exploited and degraded, rather than as an integral ecological partner with its own rights to exist and thrive. This article analyzes the recent rise of a new generation of environmental laws which reject the ‘false dogma’ of ‘humans over nature’ and instead recognize our interconnectedness with the natural world and acknowledge its rights to exist, persist, and maintain its vital cycles. The article focuses on the transition from an anthropocentric approach, denoted by the ‘right to the environment’, to a biocentric approach constructed around ‘rights of nature’. This transition is evident in various new legal instruments – the Ecuadorian Constitution, certain Bolivian laws, and numerous ordinances of the United States – which incorporate and respect rights of nature, and grant legal rights to the natural world and enforcement rights to affected communities. These instruments serve as models for legal systems which can steer us towards more robust and effective environmental laws.

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This article was prepared in the framework of the project DER2013-44009-P, entitled ‘Del desarrollo sostenible a la justicia ambiental: hacia una matriz conceptual para la gobernanza global’ (2014–16), the main researcher for which is Antoni Pigrau Solé. The project is financed by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad Español.

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1 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration), Stockholm (Sweden), 16 June 1972, UN Doc. A/CONF.48/14/Rev. 1, available at:, Principle 1 of which states that ‘Man … bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations’.

2 This idea is similar to the classic Christian view of the relationship between humans and the environment. The classic Islamic view also emphasizes that humans are stewards of creation, guardians of the Earth: Wood M.C., Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 279281.

3 With regard to the rights approach, see Bosselmann K., The Principle of Sustainability: Transforming Law and Governance (Ashgate, 2008), pp. 111144; III H. Rolston, ‘Rights and Responsibilities on the Home Planet’ (1993) 18(1) Yale Journal of International Law, pp. 251279; Santos B. de Sousa, Refundación del Estado en América Latina. Perspectivas desde una epistemologia del Sur (Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Sociedad, Programa Democracia y Transformación Global, 2010), pp. 6366.

4 Stone C., ‘Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects’ (1972) 45(2) Southern California Law Review, pp. 450501.

5 Cullet P., ‘Definition of an Environmental Right in a Human Rights Context’ (1995) 13(1) Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, pp. 2540, at 29.

6 New York, NY (US), 10 Dec. 1948, GA Res. 217A (III), UN Doc. A/810, 71, available at:

7 New York, NY (US), 16 Dec. 1966, in force 23 Mar. 1976, available at:

8 New York, NY (US), 16 Dec. 1966, in force 3 Jan. 1976, available at:

9 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, General Comment No. 6, ‘The Right to Life (Article 6)’, 16th Session, 30 Apr.1982, para. 5, available at:

10 Gormley W.P., ‘The Legal Obligation of the International Community to Guarantee a Pure and Decent Environment: The Expansion of Human Rights Norms’ (1990) 3(1) Georgetown Environmental Law Review, pp. 85116, at 97.

11 Carson R., Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), pp. 1213.

12 N. 1 above.

13 Shelton D., ‘Human Rights and the Environment: Problems and Possibilities’ (2008) 38(1–2) Environmental Policy and Law, pp. 4149, at 42.

14 The Declaration of Limoges was published by the International Centre of Comparative Environmental Law at the University of Limoges in 1990: see ‘Déclaration de Limoges: réunion mondiale des Associations de droit de l’environnement, 13–15 novembre 1990’, Faculté de droit et des sciences économiques, Presses Universitaires de France, Limoges, Paris, 1992; reprinted in (1991) 21(1) Environmental Policy & Law, pp. 38–40.

15 Adopted on 11 May 1990 by a group of experts invited by the Dutch government at the Bergen Conference (Norway); the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Draft Charter of Environmental Rights and Obligations was adopted by an intergovernmental meeting in Oslo (Norway) on 31 Oct. 1990, UN Doc. ENVWA/R.38, Annex I. See the Report of the Economic Commission for Europe on the Bergen Conference on Sustainable Development in the ECE Region, 8–16 May 1990, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/PC/10, Annex I, para. 7.

16 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Doc. UNEP/GC/14/13, 14 Apr. 1987. In 1990, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a milder statement in Resolution 45/94 ‘Need to Ensure a Healthy Environment for the Well-Being of Individuals’, UN Doc. A/RES/45/94, 14 Dec. 1990: ‘Everyone has the right to live in an environment adequate for their health and welfare’.

17 Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 3–14 June 1992, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26/Rev.1 (Vol. I), 12 Aug. 1992, available at:

18 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Report of the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna (Austria), 14–25 June 1993, UN Doc. A/CONF.157/24 (Part I), 13 Oct. 1993, Ch. III, available at:

19 Ibid., Part I, para. 11 establishes that ‘[t]he right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. The World Conference on Human Rights recognizes that illicit dumping of toxic and dangerous substances and waste potentially constitutes a serious threat to the human rights to life and health of everyone. Consequently, the World Conference on Human Rights calls on all States to adopt and vigorously implement existing conventions relating to the dumping of toxic and dangerous products and waste and to cooperate in the prevention of illicit dumping. Everyone has the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. The World Conference on Human Rights notes that certain advances, notably in the biomedical and life sciences as well as in information technology, may have potentially adverse consequences for the integrity, dignity and human rights of the individual, and calls for international cooperation to ensure that human rights and dignity are fully respected in this area of universal concern’.

20 The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was established by a decision of the Commission on Human Rights on 10 Feb. 1947. Its original name was the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (renamed by ECOSOC Decision 1999/256 of 27 July 1999, UN Doc. E/1999/99, p. 127, available at:

21 Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Decision 1989/108, 31 Aug. 1989, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1989/58.

22 The preliminary report (UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1991/8, 2 Aug. 1991) discusses the provisions of several international and national human rights instruments relating to the environment. At the request of the Subcommittee, Rapporteur Ksentini presented two more reports: one in 1992 (UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub. 2/1992/7 on 2 July 1992 and Add.1); the other in 1993 (UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1993/7, 26 July 1993). Rapporteur Ksentini’s final report (UN ECOSOC, ‘Human Rights and the Environment’, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/9, 6 July 1994), presented to the Sub-Commission at the 46th session, provides a solid basis for continuing work.

23 The final report also includes the work on human rights and the environment within the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, culminating in the Draft Principles on Human Rights and the Environment, Annex to the Final Report of Special Rapporteur Ksentini, ibid. The text states that ‘everyone has the right to a safe, healthy and ecologically sound environment. This right and other human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights are universal, interdependent and indivisible’: UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/9, ibid., Annex I, Pt I, para. 2.

24 See UN Doc. A/RES/45/94, n. 16 above.

25 E.g., the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 5 June 1992, in force 29 Dec. 1993, available at:; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at:; the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (UNCDD), Paris (France), 17 June 1994, in force 26 Dec. 1996, available at:; and Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, Geneva (Switzerland), 27 June 1989, in force 5 Sept. 1991, available at:

26 Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, Vol. 67-II, Strasbourg Session, Paris (France), 1998, p. 479.

27 Millennium Declaration, adopted by the UNGA, UN Doc. A/RES/55/2, 13 Sept. 2000, available at:

28 UNGA, Draft Outcome Document of the UN Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, UN Doc. A/69/L.85, 12 Aug. 2015, available at: The Summit, convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the UNGA, was held from 25 to 27 Sept. 2015 in New York, NY (US); see the Summit website at: The deadline for the SDGs is 2030. See Boer B. (ed.), Environmental Law Dimensions of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 135179.

29 Under the MDGs, the 7th goal of attaining environmental sustainability was isolated from the other goals. The approach resulted in very little progress as states saw the goal as environmental and accorded it less priority than others which were deemed more urgent, such as health, education and eradication of poverty.

30 Knox J., ‘Human Rights, Environmental Protection, and the Sustainable Development Goals’ (2015) 24 Washington International Law Journal, pp. 517527.

31 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNGA Resolution 61/295, 13 Sept. 2007, available at:

32 UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 19/10 ‘Human Rights and the Environment’, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/19/10, available at:

33 John Knox was appointed in Aug. 2012, for a period of 3 years, to serve as the first independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment: ibid.

34 UN Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations related to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment, John H. Knox’, UN Doc. A/HRC/22/43, 24 Dec. 2012, available at:

35 Resolution I of the Report of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, ‘The Future We Want’, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 20–22 June 2012, UN Doc. A/CONF/216/16, para.1, endorsed by the UNGA in Resolution 66/288.

36 Rome (Italy), 4 Nov. 1950, in force 3 Sept. 1953, available at: The text of the Convention is presented as amended by the provisions of Protocol No. 14 (available at: as from its entry into force on 1 June 2010.

37 On 16 Dec. 1966, the UNGA adopted two covenants in its Resolution 2200 A(XXI): ICCPR (n. 7 above) and ICESCR (n. 8 above), both of which reinforce the UDHR (n. 6 above). Following a 10-year hiatus, both covenants came into force in 1976: ICESCR, 3 Jan. 1976; ICCPR, 23 Mar. 1976.

38 ECtHR, 9 Dec. 1994, López Ostra v. Spain, appl. no. 16798/90, [1994] Series A, No. 303-C. In this case, a major environmental pollution incident was treated as a potential infringement of Arts 3 (right to human dignity) and 8 (right to privacy). With reference to Art. 2 ECHR (right to life), see ECtHR, 30 Nov. 2004, Öneryildiz v. Turkey, appl. no. 7407/76, [2004] ECHR 657, and ECtHR, 20 Mar. 2008, Budayeva v. Russia, appl. nos 15339/02. See Déjeant-Pons M., ‘Le Droit de l’Homme à l’Environnement au Niveau Fondamental Droit Européen dans le cadre du Conseil de l’Europe et la Convention Européenne des Droits de Sauvegarde l’Homme et des Libertés Fondamentales’ (1994) 4 Revue de l’Environnement Juridique, pp. 373419, at 387.

39 N. 1 above.

40 Gormley W.P., Human Rights and Environment: The Need for International Co-operation (Sijthoff, 1976), pp. 7683.

41 Recommendation 1130 (1990), ‘Formulation of a European Charter and a European Convention on Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development’, AREC 1130-28/9/90-27 E, available at:

42 Aarhus (Denmark), 25 Jun. 1998, in force 30 Oct. 2001, available at:

43 The European Committee of Social Rights has interpreted the right to health protection, enshrined in Art. 11 of the European Social Charter, to include the right to a healthy environment: see European Committee for Social Rights, Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights v. Greece, Application No. 30/2005, Decision on the Merits, adopted 6 Dec. 2006, para. 195.

44 Nairobi (Kenya), 27 Jun. 1981, in force 21 Oct. 1986, available at: Currently, 53 states have ratified the Charter, including Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa.

45 22 May 2004, in force 15 Mar. 2008, available at:

46 Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, San Salvador (El Salvador), 17 Nov. 1988, in force 16 Nov. 1999, available at: Signatories include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

47 The obligation of states to take necessary measures for the realization of the rights contained in the Protocol is limited by the provisions of Art. 1, which states that the available resources and the level of development will be considered. Although the Protocol of San Salvador includes a right to a healthy environment, it is excluded from proceedings before the IACtHR.

48 See, e.g., IACHR, In the case of the Yanomami Community, Resolution No. 12/85, Case No. 7615

(Brazil), 5 Mar. 1985, Annual Report of the IACHR 1984–85, Ch. III.1., OAS/Ser.L/V/II.66, Doc. 10 rev. 1, 1 Oct. 1985; IACHR, In the case of the Indigenous Mayan Communities in the District of Toledo (Belize), Report No. 40/04, Case 12,053, Background, 12 Oct. 2004, Annual Report of the IACHR 2004, Ch. III.C.5, OAS/Ser.L/V/II.122, Doc. 5 rev. 1, 23 Feb. 2005.

49 Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), 7–8 Dec. 1996. This conference was attended by 34 Member States, including the US, as well as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Canada: see Newsletter of the Organization of American States, Vol. 2, No. 7, Jan. 1997, p. 1.

50 OAS GT/CCDS-51/96 rev. 2, 26 Nov. 1996.

51 N. 17 above.

52 UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 3–14 June 1992, available at:

53 Phnom Pen (Cambodia), 18 Nov. 2012, para. 28f, available at:

54 Blaustein A.P. & Flanz G.H. (eds), Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Oceana Publications, 1998); Boyd D.R., The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment (UBC Press, 2012), pp. 124130.

55 Wolfrum R. & Grote R. (eds), Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Oceana Publications, 2011).

56 Silva G. Da, ‘Human Rights in the Portuguese Constitution’ (1994) 4 Revue Juridique de l’Environnement, pp. 349351, at 349.

57 These 12 countries are Bangladesh, Estonia, Guatemala, India, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uruguay.

58 Eurick J.P., ‘The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment: Enforcing Environmental Protection through State and Federal Constitutions’ (2001) 11(2) International Legal Perspective, pp. 185222, at 185.

59 Review of the Constitutionality of Law No. 349, Establishment of the Ministry of Environment and Standards of Environmental Damage, 8 July 1986, Decision 210/1987, Constitutional Court of Italy, 22 May 1987: see Peccolo G., ‘Le Droit à l’Environnement dans le Constitution Italienne’ (1994) 4 Revue Juridique de l’Environnement, pp. 335338, at 335.

60 Review of the Constitutionality of Article 674 of the Penal Code and Article 2(7) of Presidential Decree No. 203, 24 May 1988 (Implementing EU Directives 80/779, 82/884, 84/360 and 85/203 on Air Quality Rules in relation to Specific Pollutants, and Pollution from Industrial Plants, under Art. 15 of Law No. 183 of 6 Apr. 1987), Decision 127/1990, Constitutional Court of Italy, 7 Mar. 1990.

61 Bothe M., ‘Le Droit à la Protection de l’Environnement en Droit Constitutionnel Allemand’ (1994) 4 Revue Juridique de l’Environnement, pp. 313318, at 313.

62 D’Avila Rufino G., ‘Le Droit de l’Homme a l’Environnement dans la Constitution de 1988 du Brésil’ (1994) 4 Revue Juridique de l’Environnement, pp. 363371, at 363.

63 Sioutis G., ‘Le Droit de l’Homme a l’Environnement en Grèce’ (1994) 4 Revue Juridique de l’Environnement, pp. 329334.

64 Constitution of the Kingdom of Spain, 1978, Art. 45: ‘Everyone has the right to enjoy an environment suitable for the development of the person as well as the duty to preserve it. The public authorities shall concern themselves with the rational use of all natural resources for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of life and protecting and restoring the environment, supporting themselves on an indispensable collective solidarity’, available at:

65 Constitutional Court of Belgium, 14 Sept. 2006, Decision Nos 135/2006, B.10 and 137/2006, B.7.1; later confirmed by the Constitutional Court, 28 Sept. 2006, Decision No. 145/2006, B.5.1.

66 Martens M., ‘Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment in Belgium’ (2007) 16(3) Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, pp. 287297, at 287.

67 This section provides: ‘Everyone has the right: (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and (b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that: (i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation; (ii) promote conservation; and (iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development’.

68 May J. & Daly E., Global Environmental Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 321350, and Kotzé L.J., ‘Arguing Global Environmental Constitutionalism’ (2012) 1(1) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 199233, at 199.

69 Lewis B., ‘Environmental Rights or a Right to the Environment? Exploring the Nexus between Human Rights and Environmental Protection’ (2012) 8(1) Macquarie Journal of International and Comparative Environmental Law, pp. 3647, at 36.

70 See, e.g., Stockholm Declaration, n. 1 above, Principle 21, which states: ‘In accordance with the UN Charter and the principles of international law, States have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policy and the obligation to ensure that the activities carried out within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond national jurisdiction’. The Rio Declaration (n. 17 above) in Principle 2, reproduces the provisions of Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration.

71 This term was used by Professor Martínez Alier to describe how the social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently anti-ecological, in that it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on ever larger scales. Rather than acknowledging the natural limits, capital seeks to play a board game with the environmental problems it generates, moving them around rather than addressing the root causes: Alier J. Martínez, The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation (Edward Elgar, 2003), p. 132.

72 Martínez Alier J. et al., ‘Social Metabolism, Ecological Distribution Conflicts, and Valuation Languages’ (2010) 70(2) Ecological Economics, pp. 153158.

73 Birnie P.W. & Boyle A.E., International Law and the Environment (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 192.

74 Devall B. & Sessions G., Deep Ecology (Gibbs Smith, 1985).

75 Koons J., ‘Earth Jurisprudence: The Moral Value of Nature’ (2008) 25(2) Pace Environmental Law Review, pp. 263339; Koons J., ‘What is Earth Jurisprudence? Key Principles to Transform Law for the Health of the Planet’ (2009) 18(1) Penn State Environmental Law Review, pp. 4770; Cullinan C., Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, 2nd edn (Chelsea Green, 2011).

76 Boyle A., ‘The Role of International Human Rights Law in the Protection of the Environment’, in A. Boyle & M. Anderson (eds), Human Rights Approaches to Environmental Protection (Oxford University Press, 1996) pp. 4369, at 48–9.

77 In the US, for instance, title to property carries with it the legal authority to destroy the natural communities and ecosystems which depend upon that property for survival. In fact, environmental laws in the US were passed under the authority of the ‘Commerce Clause’, which grants to Congress exclusive authority over interstate commerce. Treating nature as commerce has meant that all existing environmental law frameworks in the US are anchored in the concept of nature as property: Klein C.A., ‘The Environmental Commerce Clause’ (2003) 27(1) Harvard Environmental Law Review, pp. 170, available at:

78 Bosselmann K., ‘Human Rights and the Environment: Redefining Fundamental Principles?’, in B. Gleeson & N. Low (eds), Governing for the Environment: Global Problems, Ethics and Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), pp. 118134.

79 Emmenegger S. & Tschentscher A., ‘Taking Nature’s Rights Seriously: The Long Way to Biocentrism in Environmental Law’ (1994) 6(3) Georgetown Environmental Law Review, pp. 545592, at 584.

80 See, e.g., W.J. Smith, ‘Beware the “Rights of Nature”’, The Daily Caller, 30 Dec. 2011, available at:

81 405 U.S. 727, pp. 741–43 (1972). See A. Pelizzon, ‘Keeping the Fire: Impressions of Earth Jurisprudence’ (2011) 14 Southern Cross University Law Review , pp. 6–12.

82 Sierra Club v. Morton, ibid., p. 742–3.

83 Ibid., p. 743.

84 Nash R. Frazier, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 130136; Hanna S. et al. (eds), Rights to Nature: Ecological, Economic, Cultural, and Political Principles of Institutions for the Environment (Island Press, 1996), p. 298; Bell M., ‘Thomas Berry and an Earth Jurisprudence: An Exploratory Essay’ (2003) 19(1) The Trumpeter, pp. 6996; S. Boyle, ‘On Thin Ice’, The Guardian, 8 Nov. 2006, available at:; S. Harding, ‘Earthly Rights’, The Guardian, 3 Apr. 2007, available at:; S.D. Cameron, ‘When Does a Tree Have Rights?’, The Chronicle Herald, 7 Jan. 2007, available at:

85 Stone, n. 4 above, and by the same author, Should Trees Have Standing?: Law, Morality, and the Environment (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 157–80.

86 Stutzin G., ‘Un imperativo ecológico: reconocer los derechos de la Naturaleza’ (1984) 1(1) Revista Ambiente y Desarrollo, pp. 97114; Stutzin G., ‘Nature’s Rights: Justice Requires that Nature Be Recognised as a Legal Entity’, Resurgence & Ecologist, Issue 210, Jan./Feb. 2002, available at: Godofredo Stutzin was winner of the UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1990.

87 Cullinan C., Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice (Green Books, 2002). Other references by the same author are: ‘If Nature Had Rights, What Would We Have to Give Up?’, Orion, Jan. /Feb. 2008, available at; ‘A History of Wild Law’, in P. Burdon (ed.), Exploring Wild Law: The Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence (Wakefield Press, 2011), pp. 12–23; and Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, 2nd edn (Green Books, 2011).

88 UNGA, ‘World Charter for Nature’, UN Doc. A/RES/37/7, 28 Oct. 1982, available at:

90 Washington, DC (US), 2 Dec. 1946, in force 10 Nov. 1948, available at:

91 Bonn (Germany), 23 Jun. 1979, in force 1 Nov. 1983, available at:

92 N. 25 above.

93 Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, Ramsar (Iran), 2 Feb. 1971, in force 21 Dec. 1975, available at:

94 ‘Eradicating Ecocide’, available at:

95 Higgins P., Short D. & South N., ‘Protecting the Planet: A Proposal for a Law of Ecocide’ (2013) 59(3) Crime, Law and Social Change, pp. 251266; also Higgins P., Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of Our Planet (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2010), p. 63.

96 Higgins launched her online campaign in 2014, seeking global support to exert pressure on national governments to vote for the proposed law if it is accepted by the UN Law Commission. In 2010, she submitted a proposal to the International Law Commission (ILC) to amend the Rome Statute to include an international crime of ecocide. The deadline for the text was January 2011, and a vote was scheduled on other amendments in 2012. A two-thirds majority of the 197 member states is required for it to be passed. The campaign to introduce a law of ecocide is still open, and is known as ‘WISH20’.

97 Higgins, Short & South, n. 95 above. See also:

98 The Gaia Foundation, ‘The Sentencing: Justice for the Earth Community’, available at:

99 The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a democratic tool allowing EU citizens to place issues on the EU policy agenda. When one million citizens from at least 7 EU countries support an initiative via electronic or traditional signature, the European Commission is obliged to consider a legislative proposal and a public hearing will be held in the European Parliament: see ‘End Ecocide on Earth’, available at:

100 The initiative proposed is entitled ‘End Ecocide in Europe: A Citizens’ Initiative to give the Earth Rights’; further information is available at:

101 For further information, see the Charter of Brussels’ website at: http://iecc-I

102 Adopted at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba (Bolivia), 22 Apr. 2010, available at:

103 See ‘Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 27 July 2012 – The Future We Want’, UN Doc. A/RES/66/288, 11 Sept. 2012.

105 Rockström J. et al., ‘A Safe Operating Space for Humanity’ (2009) 461 Nature, pp. 472475, available at

106 Bolivia, Gaceta Oficial, Ley del Medio Ambiente. Ley 1333, 27 Apr. 1992.

107 Art. 127 of the Venezuelan Constitution states that ‘[i]t is the right and duty of each generation to protect and maintain the environment for its own benefit and that of the world of the future … The State shall protect the environment, biological and genetic diversity, ecological processes, national parks and natural monuments, and other areas of particular ecological importance’.

108 Ibid.

109 Acosta A. & Martínez E., La naturaleza con derechos: de la filosofía a la política (Ediciones Abya-Yala, 2011), pp. 317368.

110 The Ecuadorian constitutional text has three Articles in which rights of nature are established. In Art. 71 (Nature, or Pachamama), where life is reproduced and occurs, it has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. Art. 72 declares that nature has the right to be restored, apart from the obligation of the state to compensate individuals and communities which depend on affected natural systems. In cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including those caused by the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, the state is to establish the most effective mechanisms to achieve the restoration and is required to adopt adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate harmful environmental consequences. Art. 73 provides that the state is to apply preventive and restrictive measures to activities that might lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the permanent alteration of natural cycles. The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material which might definitively alter the nation’s genetic assets is forbidden. See Aparicio M., ‘El constitucionalismo de la crisis ecológica. Derechos y naturaleza en las constituciones de Ecuador y Bolivia’, in A. Pigrau (ed.), Pueblos indígenas, diversidad cultural y justicia ambiental. Un estudio de las nuevas Constituciones de Bolivia y Ecuador (Tirant lo Blanch, 2013), pp. 459524.

111 Miradas: nuevo texto constitucional (UMSA/IDEA, 2010).

112 Bolivia, Gaceta Oficial, Ley de derechos de la Madre Tierra, Ley No. 071, 21 Dec. 2010.

113 Bolivia, Estado Plurinacional de Gaceta Oficial, Ley marco de la Madre Tierra y Desarrollo Integral para Vivir Bien, 15 Oct. 2012.

114 Gudynas E., ‘Buen Vivir: Today’s Tomorrow’ (2011) 54(4) Development, pp. 441447.

115 Resolution adopted by the UNGA on 22 Apr. 2009, ‘International Mother Earth Day’, UN Doc. A/RES/63/278, 1 May 2009, available at:

116 A critical appraisal can be found in Jaria J., ‘The Rights of Nature in Ecuador: An Opportunity to Reflect on Society, Law and Environment’, in R.V. Percival, J. Lin & W. Piermattei (eds), Global Environmental Law at a Crossroads (Edward Elgar, 2014), pp. 4862; Jaria J., ‘El “modo de vida” en las constituciones de Ecuador y Bolivia: perspectiva indígena, naturaleza y bienestar (un balance crítico)’, in Pigrau, n. 110 above, pp. 285331.

117 Lima A.E. Vargas, ‘El Derecho al Medio Ambiente en la Constitución Política del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia’ (2012) 18 Anuario de Derecho Constitucional Latinoamericano, pp. 251267.

118 Amnesty International, ‘Defending Human Rights in the Americas: Necessary, Legitimate and Dangerous’, Dec. 2014, available at:

119 Kurth T.E. et al., ‘American Law and Jurisprudence on Fracing’ (2010) 47(2) Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Journal, pp. 277345.

120 Tamaqua Borough, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania Ordinance No. 612 of 19 Sept. 2006 to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens and environment of Tamaqua Borough by prohibiting corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge; by prohibiting persons from using corporations to engage in land application of sewage sludge; by providing for the testing of sewage sludge prior to land application in the Borough; by removing constitutional powers from corporations within the Borough; by recognizing and enforcing the rights of residents to defend natural communities and ecosystems; and by otherwise adopting the Pennsylvania regulations concerning the land application of sewage sludge. The Ordinance states in s. 12 that people and their communities are trustees of nature, and communities of nature and ecosystems form part of the natural trust, and in s. 7.6 it establishes that ‘Borough residents, natural communities, and ecosystems shall be considered to be “persons” for purposes of the enforcement of the civil rights of those residents, natural communities, and ecosystems’.

121 For more information, see: See also ‘An Ordinance of the City Council of the City of Santa Monica Establishing Sustainability Rights’, adopted 12 Mar. 2013, available at:

122 Specifically, the Town Mountain Lake Park Ordinance on Natural Gas Extraction (Ordinance No. 2011-01, 3 Mar. 2011); West Homestead, Pennsylvania, Community Rights Gas Extraction Prohibition (Ordinance of 2011); Town of Wales, New York Community Protection of Natural Resources (Intro. No. 2-2011, Local Law No. 2011, to amend Local Law 1-1993, adopted by the Town Board on 11 May 1993, by adding a new Ch. 162 known as the ‘protection of natural resources’); Baldwin, Pennsylvania, Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance (Ordinance No. 838: an Ordinance of the Borough of Baldwin, Allegheny County, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, banning commercial extraction within the borough); Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, Community Protection from Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance (adopted Ordinance No. 28-70, which enacts an enforceable Local Bill of Rights, along with a prohibition on natural gas extraction); Forest Hills Borough’s Community Rights and Protection from Natural Gas Exploitation Ordinance (Ordinance No. 1017: an Ordinance of the Borough of Forest Hills, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, banning the extraction of and/or exploration for natural gas within the borough of Forest Hills); State College Borough’s Community Bill of Rights Home Rule Charter Amendment (Community Bill of Rights and Natural Gas Drilling Ban, Section 41.2-205, State College Borough Bill of Rights, available at:; Las Vegas, New Mexico’s Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance Ordinance (Ordinance No. 2013-01, available at:; amongst many others. All these ordinances were drafted in consultation with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF): see

123 Wheeler v. Director de la Procuraduría General Del Estado en Loja, Juicio, Sentencia Causa, 30 Mar. 2011, Acción de Protección No. 11121-2011-00010, Sala Penal de la Corte Provincial de Loja, available at:

124 Daly E., ‘Ecuadorian Exemplar: The First Ever Vindications of Constitutional Rights’ (2012) 21(1) Review of European Community & International Environmental Law, pp. 6366.

125 Wheeler, n. 123 above.

126 Ibid., para. 5.

127 Smith G., ‘In Ecuador, Trees Now Have Rights’ (2009) 23(4) Earth Island Journal, pp. 115.

128 Wheeler, n. 123 above, para. 10.

129 Ibid., para. 12.

130 The group included Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria and Vandana Shiva of India (both winners of the Right Livelihood Award), and activists from Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, including the Chair of the Constitutional Review Panel of Ecuador.

131 Justice for the Earth Community: Defending the Rights of Nature and Holding Corporations to Account (Gaia Learning Centre, Sept. 2011).

132 Ibid.

133 Acosta A. et al., Leaving the Oil in the Ground: A Political, Economic, and Ecological Initiative in the Ecuadorian Amazon (Americas Program Policy Report, 2009).

134 Supreme Court of Belize, A.D. 2009, Claim No. 45 of 2009, Admiralty, The Attorney General of Belize v. MS Westerhaven Schiffahrts Gmbh & Co KG and Reider Shipping BV, Judgment, 26 Apr. 2010; see also Court of Appeal of Belize, A.D. 2011, Civil Appeal No. 19 of 2010, MS Westerhaven Schiffahrts Gmbh & Co KG and Reider Shipping BV v. The Attorney General of Belize, Judgment, 13–14, 19–20 Oct. 2010, 16 May 2011.

135 N. 25 above.

136 C. Larrea, La Explotación Petrolera en el Parque Nacional Yasuní y los Derechos de la Naturaleza, available at: See also Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, available at:;, and

This article was prepared in the framework of the project DER2013-44009-P, entitled ‘Del desarrollo sostenible a la justicia ambiental: hacia una matriz conceptual para la gobernanza global’ (2014–16), the main researcher for which is Antoni Pigrau Solé. The project is financed by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad Español.

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Transnational Environmental Law
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