Giving nature legal rights
The case for a Proportional Property Tax in the UK
In 2009, the participants of the Eighth Forum on Indigenous Issue were told by Nicolas Lucas Ticum, a Maya priest from Guatemala and a researcher on the Calendrio Maya, that “The Earth does not belong to human beings. Human beings belong to the Earth”. Despite this phrase being stressed by the United Nations, many member countries, including the UK, have continued activities that seriously endanger biodiversity.
Bolivia, on the contrary, adopted a radically different approach to the issue by passing in 2011 the world’s first lawsgranting all nature equal rights to humans, with very little political opposition. Entitled “The Law of Mother Earth”, it gave nature the following rights:
- The right to life and to exist
- The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration
- The right to pure water and clean air
- The right to balance
- The right not to be polluted
- The right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered
- The right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities
Despite this tremendous effort, so far the country seems to be facing a lack of results. Indeed, The International Rights of Nature Tribunal recently issued a ruling against the Bolivia government’s road development.
Why is it that after ten years, none have replicated this idea in their own home countries? It is key to note that the passing of such a law in Bolivia was facilitated by a specific culture. Indeed, the country saw a resurgence of the indigenous Andean spiritual world view according to which the environment and the earth deity, known as the Pachamama, is at the centre of all life.
Cases for this law:
- The European Court of Human Rights, which we used to be a part of, has already given rights to the environment in a number of rulings since the 1960s, including such a law in the UK political environment would help to continue doing so.
- It would help to radically change the way humans interact with their environment and reconnect themwith nature.
- It would give more tools for citizens to defend the planet and biodiversity.
- The UK government would be further legally bound to implement, defend and enforce the Rights of Nature, whatever their personal interests are in the matter. Some might believe that a case against would be the stop to development, but in reality such law would not stop development but rather stop the development that interferes with biodiversity and the ecosystem, which in the long-term would benefit all
- Finally, it could advance a more radically inclusive interpretation of environmental justice.
Cases against this law
- It is key to note that the passing of such a law in Bolivia was facilitated by a specific culture. Indeed, the country saw a resurgence of the indigenous Andean spiritual world view according to which the environment and the earth deity, known as the Pachamama, is at the centre of all life. This idea of a separation between humans and nature began about 11,000 years ago with the first agriculture-based societies, it will therefore take more than a change in law to change our culture. As a result, the initial lack of cultural and spiritual background for this law might could it harder to implement and comprehend for the general public, and even politicians.
- It would bring about difficulties in identifying defendants in legal cases.
- Despite this tremendous effort, so far Bolivia seems to be facing a lack of results. Indeed, The International Rights of Nature Tribunal recently issued a ruling against the government’s road development.
About the author
Ariane is a policy advisor at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She was previously the Environment Spokesperson for Centre. As part of Centre, Ariane wrote a paper on lessons from Denmark on the environment. She also published a monthly article for Centre on the environment. She also has experience as a freelance writer for the Oxford Business Review and as a Communications Intern at the UN Environment Programme.