Earth Law Center: Champions for the Rights of Nature
Updated: Aug 7
Earth Law Center (ELC) brings an innovative legal solution to catalyze, connect and strengthen current environmental protection efforts. ELC seeks systemic change: rather than environmental laws allowing pollution and degradation, we strive for governance systems that prevent environmental degradation beyond the point of natural restoration.
Despite international laws and agreements designed to sustain and protect the ocean, marine biodiversity and health is in decline. This is because we largely value the ocean as resource and property, rather than a life giving partner. As a result, laws are designed by humans and for human benefit, and still allow pollution and degradation, rather than ensuring the ocean is healthy and thriving for its own sake.
Earth Law provides legal rights to nature and gives a stronger voice to local communities and indigenous groups in decisions that impact the environment. The movement aims to shift the paradigm from human centered to nature centered, such that humans can create a sustainable relationship with nature. Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico City now protect rights of nature in their constitutions and New Zealand treaty agreements declare a river, national park, and sacred mountain as legal entities with “all the rights of a legal person.” Over 30 municipalities in the US have passed rights of nature ordinances.
In June 2017, ELC launched the Rights of the Ocean Initiative at the United Nations, with 67 organizations from 32 countries signing on in support. The initiative calls upon governments and stakeholders to change how we view and treat the ocean. The United Nations, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization all agree that a shift to holism and alternative forms of management are needed.
Earth Law Center is creating this alternative form and solution, We are doing so by:
Creating the framework, or guideline, for how to evolve marine protected area management to include the rights of the ocean, and adopt a holistic and systems-based approach to governance (titled the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas)
Launching initiatives and partnerships to gain legal rights for marine areas (including in the Puget Sound USA, Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary, Venezuela’s Los Roques National Park and South Africa)
Creating an ocean-centered definition and index of ocean “health” to guide policy (i.e., what does the ocean need to continually regenerate its capacity to support life?)
Working with the High Seas Alliance to ensure the upcoming international treaty for biodiversity on the high seas includes the rights of the ocean
Creating a working group within the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to launch pilot projects to implement the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas
In order to achieve a healthy ocean we need to :
manage our activities using a management structure that equally views and balances all interconnected parts
develop a non anthropocentric benchmark criteria defining what is healthy
increase awareness on the threats to ocean health and the inadequacy of our current system to address them
The emerging threats to ocean health represent the need for a paradigm shift. The current paradigm (i.e., the accepted model or pattern in which communities operate within) is a century old notion originating from Gifford Pinchot, whom sought to conserve forests by controlling their uses. He solidified the use of this paradigm characterizing the “nation’s “conservation ethic” as the “controlled” use of natural “resources.”” The ocean conservation community can encourage a revolutionary change in our worldview by persistently promoting a new paradigm. The new Earth paradigm is one where humans are a part of nature, where we respect and balance the needs of the ocean with that of humans, and where we are stewards of the ocean, not owners of it.
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