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Would giving nature legal rights stop environmental destruction?

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Environmental destruction is a moral wrong that should be stopped, according to Swedish researchers who are advocating for the legal rights of nature. Existing environmental laws have largely failed to slow the degradation and destruction of the natural world, they say, which has inspired a movement to give nature the same rights as corporations or trade unions. Several places around the world, including Mexico City, Whanganui and Te Urewera have already adopted these rights in policy.

Journal/conference: Science

DOI: 10.1126/science.aav5601

Organisation/s: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden ; Uppsala University, Sweden

Media Release

From: AAAS

For the advocates of legal rights for nature, environmental destruction is a moral wrong that needs to be stopped, according to a Policy Forum by Guillaume Chapron and others. The piece discusses the budding “rights of nature” movement, and how the introduction of legal rights for nature could help to better protect natural systems.

Existing environmental laws have largely failed to slow the degradation and destruction of the natural world, which has inspired a growing movement to recognize nature as a rights holder. Several jurisdictions around the world, such as Mexico City, have adopted these rights in policy. While this movement may lead to better protection of natural systems, questions remain concerning the nature of this rights revolution and how it can be successfully implemented.

Like the animal rights movement, the rights of nature movement seeks to promote the rights of the natural communities, ecosystems and other non-human systems that are alive or are crucial to sustaining life. According to Chapron et al., while the grounds upon which rights for nature should be granted vary and can be debated, legally recognizing the rights of a facet like nature is not unprecedented. What’s more, granting legal rights to non-human entities is rather common. Corporations, trade unions and states, for example, each have recognized rights in the eyes of the law.

While the authors suggest that granting rights to nature will increase legal protection for the environment and likely benefit other protective initiatives, like the Endangered Species Act, many questions remain. One such fundamental question which must be addressed involves how to best define nature as a rights-bearer and how this bearer should claim its rights.

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