Week of 13 September 2021
Growing calls for a framework for the legal recognition of the Rights of Nature at the EU
Our key takeaway: There are growing calls for a framework for the legal recognition of the Rights of Nature at the EU, which in turn would enable an improved relationship between human beings and Nature. Enter the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights of Nature?
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) commissioned a study ‘Towards an EU Charter of the Fundamental Rights of Nature Study’, which was developed by the University of Salento-CEDEUAM, the University of Siena and Nature’s Rights (UK) (I was invited to comment at the EESC hearing – my comments are available here):
- The ‘old paradigm encoded in law’: “At the heart of our multiple interconnected emergencies is an old paradigm encoded in law that drives our societal systems on autopilot in a degenerative cycle of destruction that ultimately leads to extinction. Law drives the way our systems operate – if we encode a new paradigm in law we start to turn the wheel the other way, programming our societal systems for regeneration.” The report highlights that “[e]nvironmental law in its current reactive form can slow the rate of degeneration but it can never be regenerative because it stems from the same paradigm that causes the degenerative cycle in the first place.” We see in short a “fundamental mismatch between a fragmented, mechanistic, reductionist, top down, fixed, quantitative and out-dated system of law – with the holistic, dynamic, multidimensional and unpredictable nature of complex adaptive systems such as Nature and human societies (which are a sub-system of Nature).”
- The call for a whole systems approach in a new EU Charter: The report argues that “[a]t present law only manages the externalities and consequences of a dysfunctional system and is perpetuating the problem by supporting an unsustainable economic paradigm based on infinite growth. A new societal blueprint encoded in law that is able to keep our societal systems – including the economic system – aligned with regeneration will ensure the success of European Green Deal.” To achieve this, the report emphasizes the importance of a new EU Fundamental Charter for the Rights of Nature (“Charter”), while making clear that such a Charter can only succeed if it outline[s] “a unifying and harmonizing whole systems approach to its implementation.”
- The Rights of Nature model: The report highlights the need to move from the current model of sustainability (where nature, people and the economy overlap but can operate independently of each other) to one of 3 concentric circles in which economy sits within people that sits within environment. This reflects “a model of nested hierarchies that follow the natural orders of life, with each level being dependent on the one above for its existence”, i.e., the economy is dependent on people, who are dependent on the environment. “This is what we refer to as the Rights of Nature – it encompasses both human and economic rights in ‘right relationship’” – with “a ‘right relationship’ being one that supports the wellbeing of the whole.” The report notes that “the Rights of Nature are the only ‘ecological’ rights that include climate stability, biodiversity protection and human ‘benefits’” and that “[r]ecognising the Rights of Nature in law is therefore crucial in making legal systems proactive in tackling our emergency challenges.” And this is where the Charter comes in: “If law is to be part of the solution, a radically different whole-systems approach is needed, which is what a Charter can start creating at the highest level of EU law.”
For more, see European Economic and Social Committee, Towards an EU Charter of the Fundamental Rights of Nature (written by the University of Salento-CEDEUAM, the University of Siena and Nature’s Rights (UK), 2019)