Here is the actual text of the provision in the Ecuador Constitution that establishes the Rights of Nature, plus a brief discussion of what this language might mean, in a legal sense:
"Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights."
Thomas Linzey, a US lawyer who has helped to develop the new legal framework for nature, says: "The dominant form of environmental protection in industrialised countries is based on the regulatory system. Governments permit and legalise the discharge of certain amounts of toxics into the environment. As a form of environmental protection, it's not working.
"In the same way, compensation is measured in terms of that injury to a person or people. Under the new system, it will be measured according to damage to the ecosystem. The new system is, in essence, an attempt to codify sustainable development. The new laws would grant people the right to sue on behalf of an ecosystem, even if not actually injured themselves."
Until now, all legal frameworks have been anthropocentric, or people-based. To file an environmental lawsuit requires a person to provide evidence of personal injury. This can be extremely difficult. To provide a conclusive link, say, between a cancer and polluted drinking water is, legally speaking, virtually impossible.
The origins of this apparent legal tidal shift lie in Ecuador's growing disillusionment with foreign multinationals. The country, which contains every South American ecosystem within its borders, which include the Galapagos Islands, has had disastrous collisions with multi-national companies. Many, from banana companies to natural gas extractors, have exploited its natural resources and left little but pollution and poverty in their wake.Clare Kendall
The Guardian, Wednesday 24 September 2008