Nature is much more than a legal person, and if declaring it as the latter is the only way left to protect it, our civilization is in serious trouble.
Govind Singh, Associate Professor, Jindal School of Environment & Sustainability, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
Each year deadly storms rip through communities across the globe, destroying homes, infrastructure and ending thousands of lives. In most cases, insurance companies (or the government) usually foot the bill for the millions of dollars in damages.
But could we see a scenario where Mother Earth herself is sued?
Environmental personhood attempts to ascribe rights to a natural entity or ecosystem as a legal person. It gained traction towards the latter half of the 20th century and has found some integration with law in recent decades.
It calls for legal protection of forests, rivers and other natural ecosystems. Assigning legal rights to an environmental entity is also seen as a recognition of indigenous knowledge systems which are believed to personify nature and natural resources.
The motivation that drives environmental personhood is conservation using law as a tool. Law is conventionally more concerned with regulating human behaviour, customs and practices and delivering justice.
To consider any natural component of the environment as a person, therefore, allows for its greater inclusion in the legal process. But the legal translation of environmental personhood, especially where indigenous and traditional communities are involved, needs a cultural reality check.
The rights of nature have recently been recognised by courts in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and India, among others. The natural entities that have been declared legal persons include national parks, rivers, lakes, the greater natural environment and Mother Earth.
This recognition has helped generate awareness about the need for their protection and conservation. But how much it has contributed to legal protection is an ongoing discussion that has already raised several concerns.
Published in: 360info.
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