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rights of nature

Pine forest in Sweden. (Photo: Peter Lesseur / EyeEm/ iStock)

A Missed Opportunity: Rights of Nature Removed From New Draft of Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

This removal is not only a missed opportunity, but also hinders the framework's capacity to implement transformative change to regress rampant biodiversity loss as well as encourage systemic change that is desperately needed in our environmental crisis.

Rachel Bustamante

On July 12, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat released the first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, deleting what is arguably the most important enabling condition: "to consider, where appropriate, the rights of nature," replacing this language with "employing rights-based approaches." This framework would have been the first international treaty to recognize Nature's rights. 

It was undoubtedly noteworthy that Nature's rights were included in the "zero draft" of the framework, released on August 17, 2020. The inclusion of Rights of Nature at that time was remarkable and showed a pioneering spirit for the protection of biodiversity. While the removal is regrettable, there is still time to reintegrate Rights of Nature in the framework before it is adopted in October.

Human activity should be grounded in the consideration of natural processes of ecosystems and strive to restore and maintain thriving habitats.

This removal is not only a missed opportunity, but also hinders the framework's capacity to implement transformative change to regress rampant biodiversity loss as well as encourage systemic change that is desperately needed in our environmental crisis. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international legal instrument ratified by 196 nations. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework is a negotiated set of biodiversity targets and plans for implementation that will be up for potential adoption at the 15th meeting of the "Conference of the Parties" to the CBD (COP-15) planned for this October in Kunming, China. To achieve the framework's 2050 vision of humanity "living in harmony with Nature," we must recognize Nature's intrinsic value and humanity's interdependence with Earth's web of life. 

Rights of Nature is a global emerging movement and body of law that aims to do just that! The recognition and implementation of the Rights of Nature would create a new legal order based on recognizing the human duty to care and respect Nature as a living entity subject to rights. 

A missed opportunity

This is a missed opportunity for the CBD to change "business as usual" strategies that do not address the root causes of biodiversity loss nor achieve systemic change. The present narrative of conservation argues that Nature exists and should be protected for the purpose of providing services to humanity. This is based on the flawed conception that humans are separate from and superior to Nature, creating our present fragmented, reactive and anthropocentric approach to biodiversity loss. 

In fact, this removal could not come at a worse time: not one of the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity targets were fulfilled, international law to date has failed to regress our environmental crisis and "more species are threatened with extinctionthan ever before in human history." Since 1970 we have lost two thirds of wildlife populations worldwide, according to the 2020 Living Planet Report

Our present legal and governing systems, foster and legalize an economy based on exploiting Nature and vulnerable communities as "resources" to maximize profit. This leads to increasingly violating inherent human rights and consistently violating inherent Rights of Nature.

All of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals inherently include the interconnection of humanity and Nature. For example, healthy ecosystems are crucial to achieve objectives such as Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation and Reduced Inequalities. 

It is globally recognized that instances of injustice meet at intersections of race, gender, class, religion, but also Nature. In removing this enabling condition, the framework fails to consider that recognizing and implementing the Rights of Nature also collectively protects human rights.

Rights of Nature in practice

Implementing the Rights of Nature would address root causes by establishing a proactive rather than reactive approach to biodiversity loss. Several countries have also already embraced Rights of Nature at the domestic level, whether in the form of constitutional amendments, national law, judicial decisions, treaty agreements or local resolutions; for example, in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, India, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.

Human activity should be grounded in the consideration of natural processes of ecosystems and strive to restore and maintain thriving habitats. Rights of Nature would achieve the framework's "plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society's relationship with biodiversity" by balancing global development, economics, governance and laws with Earth's planetary boundaries. 

The importance of the language of the framework in determining how biodiversity is protected in practice cannot be understated. Our present international environmental laws only slow the degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity loss, rather than regress or restore Nature.  

Current international environmental governance and legislation is fragmented and lacks an overarching, legally binding umbrella framework to guide institutions, policies, and governments in halting biodiversity loss. The post-2020 framework calls for transformative change, and Rights of Nature is a unifying and overarching legal, ethical and governance framework to achieve the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

To achieve the vision of living in harmony with Nature and protecting all life on the planet, Nature's rights must be acknowledged. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Rachel Bustamante

Rachel Bustamante is an Environmental Policy Extern at Earth Law Center.

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