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The future of the Rights of Nature: an interdisciplinary scoping analysis

Source: UNEP 2016, Indigenous People: Protecting Our Planet,

Source: UNEP 2016, Indigenous People: Protecting Our Planet,

Source: UNEP 2016, Indigenous People: Protecting Our Planet,

The high rates of environmental degradation and increasing impacts of climate change on society evidence a strong and growing need to find new ways to manage natural resources in a sustainable and resilient manner. Recent reforms have been largely reactive to these intensifying crises. As the frequency and magnitude of environmental crises accelerate, one new and little explored innovative approach to offer a better and more sustainable management of natural resources is emerging under the banner of 'Earth Law'.

The movement to support Earth Law, underpinned by the emergence of a new legal theory, also known as Earth Jurisprudence, is gaining momentum. The idea of Earth Law is to recognise the 'legal personalities' of nature, granting natural resources rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of legal subjects. Since Ecuador included Rights of Nature in its Constitution in 2008, new legislation and court cases recognising the legal rights of nature have emerged in several countries. But the most developed application has been materialised via the recent recognition of the rights of rivers in New Zealand, Australia, Colombia and India. As rivers cannot act legally on their own, this is based on new institutional arrangements recognising a 'guardianship' role for local communities and indigenous peoples.

Although the idea of attributing rights to nature is gaining traction in public discourse and media, there is very limited interdisciplinary analysis examining how this could become a workable model to address global environmental degradation. Our aim is to review the current application of Earth Law across disciplines, in order to present an innovative interdisciplinary method of analysis which would enable a new model of participatory ecological management. The project will have an indigenous advisory board and initiate a network of scholars and practitioners to support practice-led learning, critical reflection and dialogue. The results of the study will be conceptualized in a new interdisciplinary approach to explore future research in this field. By developing a new interdisciplinary approach to the study of Earth Law, our study will explore whether a new model of 'guardianship' could contribute to a more sustainable management of the environment, while also improving people's livelihoods in ways that are culturally sensible, equitable and sustainable.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of the United Kingdom and the interdisciplinary consortium consists of:

  • Prof. Jeremie Gilbert, Roehampton University
  • Dr. Robert Grabowski, Cranfield University
  • Prof. Anne Robertson, Roehampton University
  • Dr. Ilkhom Soliev, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
  • Dr. Saskia Vermeylen, University of Strathclyde
  • Dr. Neil Williams, Roehampton University

Animation developed by the project team on Rights of Nature interdisciplinary research