Ecuador Proposes Giving Constitutional Rights to Nature

Seen as clear evidence that Ecuador is taking responsibility for its role in sustaining natural resources, the country will hold a constitutional referendum allowing voters to decide, among numerous other reforms, whether nature should be given certain unalienable rights. This move is a world first and, with humankind becoming increasingly aware of issues such as global warming and measuring carbon footprints, it may very well make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

The way the new constitution is worded, if it is approved nature would have the right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”, giving elected officials, communities and even individuals in communities the legal footing to defend the rights of nature. Ecuador’s efforts to redefine the relationship between human beings and nature is sure to meet with a mixed reaction, but will nonetheless give people the opportunity to decide where they stand on the issue, even if they have not given it much thought up to now.

The idea of giving legal rights to nature was explored years ago in the United States where a number of cities and towns were determined to fight off invasive coal mines, incinerators and factory farms. With the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Pennsylvania, quite a number of municipalities have abandoned the onerous task of attempting to halt undesirable development through the appeals process of the legal system, and are banning outright any activity which they deem to be environmentally and even socially disruptive. For example, Southampton, PA, forbids the corporate ownership of farms, while the city of Wayne passed an ordinance to prevent corporations with criminal histories from setting up shop in city limits. Ecuadorian officials called on the expertise of Pennsylvania’s Legal Defense Fund when they were drafting the new constitution. Reportedly other countries that have called on this expertise include Australia, South Africa, and more recently officials from Nepal, which is drafting its first constitution.

While a number of religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Constantinople, have expressed the opinion that caring for the environment should be viewed as a spiritual duty, Ecuador is the first country to propose giving nature constitutional rights. Taking into account that Ecuador is a treasure trove of natural wonders such as the Galapagos, the Sierra and the Amazon, which attract tourists from all around the world, it certainly makes sense that they would want to take measures to ensure that the environment is protected – for current and future generations.