Madeleine Sheehan explores alternative views towards climate change and nature conservation: rights for nature


The COP 21 (Conference of the Parties #21) climate talks kicked off on November 30th in Paris and will run until 11 December, run jointly by climate Action and UNEP. The goal of the talks is to come up with a climate agreement to limit the warming of the earth to 2C, compared to the preindustrial era.

147 world leaders have met in Paris for the event and most seem willing and open-minded to agree on emissions limits together. Presidents Barack Obama and Vladmir Putin have released statements on their willingness, and even India, one of the highest emitters, has expressed a flexible attitude towards limiting their pollution. Most of this, understandably, has been taken as good news in the media.

A peculiar political friendship. Source: Business Insider – (

Tech gurus such as Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, of Microsoft, The Virgin Group, and Facebook, respectively, have announced plans for a multi-billion dollar research project to produce new alternative energy options.

But are we looking for the wrong solutions? Many environmentalists as well as some world leaders have descended on COP21 with the goal of introducing the concept of “rights of nature.”

In his speech on Monday at the conference’s inaugural session, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed that we need an “international court of environmental justice” to punish “terrorist attacks” against nature.

Correa added that we must “punish violations of the rights of nature” because“nothing justifies that we have courts to protect investments (…), but not to protect nature.”

Ecuador is one of the few countries where nature is protected under constitution and anyone can be sued for violating the environmental rights.

The question at hand: is the notion of “unlimited growth” incompatible with environmental protection, as Correa argued?

Under the Ecuadorian constitution, nature has the right to “to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution(…)

It continues, “Nature has the right to restoration (…) 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.”

Yasuni national park oil. Source: (
Yasuni national park oil. Source: (

The South American state has been cautious in allowing protections for the local people who use nature on a regular basis.

To allow indigenous tribes to continue their ways of life, Article 74 reads: “The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

“This allows for farming, herding, and other non-harmful organic practices, without risk of persecution.”

Subsequent to Ecuador’s passing or their rights of nature clause, other countries and cities have joined the trend of recognizing rights for nature: Bolivia, Santa Monica, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Is the concept of rights of nature the future? By stepping back from the capitalist mindset, which some environmentalists argue only “legalizes pollution” (Linda Sheehan, Earth Law Center), do we then get the correct answer?

If so, many western world leaders are en route to making the wrong decisions at COP21.


Madeleine Perkins is a contributing Politics writer and sociologist based out in San Fransisco, USA. 

(For the full clause of rights for nature in Ecuador click here.)


Madeleine Sheehan
Posted by:Madeleine Sheehan