Nature is increasingly being given legal rights: 'This is how we can really save nature'

November 30 2023

Since 2017, Nyenrode Business University professor Tineke Lambooy has been researching the globally innovative legal trend of 'Rights of Nature'. Internationally and also in the Netherlands, she is a forerunner in this field. "The purpose of granting rights to natural objects or entities such as rivers, forests, mountains and animals is to recognise their intrinsic value and give them a voice. If a natural area or river has rights, this natural entity is able to act in public debate and court. Just like us and government agencies, companies, foundations and associations. For instance, nature can stir when a decision by a public or private party threatens its survival or when there is behaviour that damages the quality of nature," Lambooy said.

Rights of Nature in Limburg

In November 2023, the municipal council of the Limburg municipality of Eijsden-Margraten decided that it wanted to give legal personality to local flora and fauna (the ‘Maasdal en Heuvelland’). Lambooy explained that "the council envisages that a 'guardian' - possibly a nature organisation - will be appointed to advocate the interests of nature".  Where local nature now often loses out in favour of economic interests in the region, a guardian can ensure that nature interests become an integral part of the decision-making process in the municipality. Exactly what the new policy will look like (legally and organisationally) in Eijsden-Margraten is not yet known.

More information can be found here.

Rights for the Wadden Sea and the Meuse

In the Netherlands, there are also initiatives to give rights to the Wadden Sea and the Meuse. The nature of both natural entities suffers from chemical discharges and other economic activities. At the request of the Wadden Academy together with colleagues, Lambooy researched if granting rights to the Wadden Sea was legally possible and whether such an approach could improve the protection of  nature. Lambooy: "The research results on both questions were positive: yes, it is legally possible to give rights to the Wadden Sea or another nature entity. For example, water boards, the Netherlands Bank and the Financial Markets Authority also have legal personality to perform their (public) duties. Granting rights to the Wadden Sea would acknowledge the intrinsic value of that nature and give it a voice in the public debate. Currently, there is no body that has the right to influence public decisions on behalf of the nature of the Wadden Sea as a whole. NGOs such as the Wadden Association, as well as the Wadden Academy as the government's knowledge partner, do a lot of research and their best to influence policy. But when all is said and done, the minister or another competent authority decides what happens, usually on the basis of economic considerations."

The study was presented by the Wadden Academy to the Dutch Minister for Nature and Nitrogen in November 2022. Due to the study, a number of meetings were convened by the House of Representatives in early 2023. Herein members of the parliament proposed granting rights to the Wadden Sea, which was also decided by the Province of North Holland in May 2023. The municipality of Noardeast-fryslan was the first to advocate it: a motion on this was adopted already in 2019. D66 is now drafting a bill to give this legal status to the Wadden Sea. The Party for the Animals is preparing a proposal to include rights of nature in the Constitution. A number of progressive political parties have now included opting for rights of nature in their election program for 22 November 2023.

Rights of Nature - Global Overview

Remarkably, the approach of giving rights to nature is already used in more than 40 countries, including the United States, Canada, Latin American countries, Australia and several European countries. For example, in places where communities are suffering from habitat destruction or pollution. Research by Lambooy and colleagues shows that there are more than 400 initiatives in total, indicating a growing global trend.

The issue of nature's rights has really attracted attention, it regularly features in newspapers and other media. Nyenrode Business University contributes to this by conducting research and by sharing the results with a wider audience.  

Source: Figures & data: Putting the rights of nature on the map. A quantitative analysis of rights of nature initiatives across the world


November 30 2023

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