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Progress to Date

Numerous articles and books have outlined the philosophy and broad framework of what a governance system could look like that recognized and protected the rights of the whole Earth community. These ideas continue to spread. “Wild law” conferences are held annually in England, Scotland, and Australia. Organizations that are members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature are actively involved in promoting and developing these concepts in Australia, Italy, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among other countries.

The idea of shifting the purpose of governance systems to ensure that humans live harmoniously within an Earth community in which all members have legal rights is no longer unthinkable. As this approach infuses civil society organizations around the world, and as the use of language regarding the rights of nature and Mother Earth increases, it is beginning to shift the global discourse about governance.

Existing social movements have increasingly taken up these ideas since April 2010, when the 35,000-strong World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth convened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to proclaim a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME). The declaration recognizes that Earth is an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with inherent rights, and defines fundamental human duties to other beings and to Mother Earth as a whole. The reasons for its adoption are reflected in the resulting People's Agreement: “In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not possible to recognize rights only of the human part without provoking an imbalance in the system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth.”

The People's Agreement adopted at Cochabamba has created a common manifesto for many civil society organizations throughout the world. Since 2010, for example, the peasant's organization La Via Campesina has made statements showing that it regards mobilizing to defend the rights of Mother Earth as an integral part of strategies to defend the rights of exploited groups such as peasants and women. Faith communities, and indigenous peoples are adopting this language in public declarations, and the UDRME has sparked numerous other initiatives, including one to develop a global Children's Charter for the Rights for Mother Earth.

Initially, some indigenous people's organizations had concerns about using non-indigenous concepts such as “rights” to express indigenous perspectives, and about whether advocating rights for nature might undermine efforts to enhance the rights of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples from South America's Andean region have helped to allay these concerns, and indigenous organizations in North America speak increasingly of the importance of defending the rights of Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples' activists in Africa and Australia also are beginning to explore the relevance of this discourse to their culture and political struggles.

The language of the rights of nature and Mother Earth is penetrating international discourse as well. The United Nations General Assembly has convened several discussions on “living in harmony with Nature,” and references to the rights of nature are found in several reports of the UN Secretary-General as well as in both the official declaration from the 2012 World Summit on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) and the declaration of the parallel People's Summit.

The most significant example of the application of these ideas to date is Ecuador. In September 2008, a referendum of the people of Ecuador approved the adoption of a constitution that explicitly recognizes that nature, or Pachamama (Mother Earth), has legal enforceable rights that every Ecuadorian person must respect and that the state has a legal duty to uphold. (See Box 7–1.) Significantly, this recognition of the rights of beings other than humans is characterized as part of a wider project of building a new social order in which citizens will seek to achieve well-being in harmony with nature.

Bolivia has since adopted a law recognizing the rights of nature as well. Both countries are now grappling with how to reconcile the socioeconomic demands of their electorates, the ambitions of extractive industries, and the rights of Mother Earth, with mixed results. In Ecuador, for example, a lawsuit in the name of the Vilcabamba River was successful and the provincial government was ordered to rectify damage caused by the tipping of soil and

 
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