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Ecuador has become the first country in the world to enshrine rights for nature in its constitution. This astonishing innovation was first called for by Christopher Stone in his famous 1974 essay, Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.

The 20th Ecuador constitution, approved by popular vote on September 28, calls on (and authorizes) both government and people to protect and restore the integrity of the natural environment, such as the precious islands of the Galapagos. It will be fascinating to see how the new provisions actually works in practice  – will the courts really give it teeth? Unfortunately, one of the earliest results of the new constitution flowed from another new section about the rights of the poor- it reportedly led a group of land claimants to clear most of the trees from a newly re-forested nature reserve.

The new constitution states:

Chapter: Rights for Nature

Art. 1 . Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms.* The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2 .  Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4 . The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5 . The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and from natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

The environmental services are cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

Amazingly, this wording is based on a model municipal bylaw prepared by a US NGO, the Community Environmental Defense Fund. The Fund has assisted numerous municipalities to adopt “progressive” bylaws on topics such as:

Prohibits Corporations from Taking Private Eminent Domain http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=434
Prohibits Corporations from Mining http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=427
Prohibits Corporate Land Development http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=582&preview=1&cache=0
Enforces the Right to Local Self-Governance and Eliminates Corporate Privileges http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=430
New Ordinance Prohibiting Land Application of Sewage Sludge http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=410
Protects Rights of Ecosystems http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=440
Asserts Liability for Bodily Chemical —–
Prohibits Corporate Water Withdrawals —–
Prohibits Corporate Retailing http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=766
Prohibits Unsustainable Energy Production http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=428
Prohibits Corporate Hauling of Toxins Through Municipalities http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=765
Nullifies the USA PATRIOT Act http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=424
Nullifies the National Animal Identification System http://www.celdf.org/article.php?id=764

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