Rights of Nature Protect Ecuador's Los Cedros Forest in Court

Rights of Nature Protect Ecuador's Los Cedros Forest in Court

Rights of Nature laws convey legal rights to ecosystems like rivers or forests that have historically been reserved for people. Ecuador was the first country to extend constitutional rights to nature, a change that happened in 2008. But these rights weren't put to use until last year when the country's Constitutional Court ruled that a mining project violated a protected rainforest's rights. The Los Cedros case stopped Enami, Ecuador's state mining company, and its Canadian partner, Cornerstone Capital Resources, from exploring the region for mining opportunities since it could harm endangered species living in the forest.

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF): Rights of Nature, July 10, 2020.

Why This Matters

The Los Cedros decision in Ecuador shows the power that rights of nature legislation can have. In this case, the courts stopped the mining project at an exploratory stage -- a part of the process that in and of itself doesn't cause much harm but can usher in major damage to the ecosystem. Under the country's environmental law, the permit to mine would have moved forward but the rights of nature protections require a more comprehensive interpretation of what causes harm.

"The ruling marks a sea change in the way that extractive industry projects will be approved in Ecuador, shifting the burden to industry to prove its actions are not harming fragile ecosystems," as Inside Climate News put it.

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN): A Victory for the Rights of Nature at Los Cedros Reserve, Ecuador, December 3, 2021.

Rainforest Concern: Los Cedros - José DeCoux, April 23, 2021.

A Shift In Mindset

In the years since Ecuador added rights of nature to its constitution, the concept has spread around the world. Mexico City includes rights of nature in its constitution, and Uganda recognizes nature as having fundamental rights. Rights of nature exist in the US as well, from waterways in Florida's Orange County to Toledo, Ohio's Lake Erie Bill of Rights. No matter where they're enacted, they represent a change in how the environment is perceived and treated by the law. Following a rights of nature paradigm -- people and nature are intertwined -- is an Indigenous approach to environmental law.

As Ecuadorian attorney Hugo Echeverria stated in an interview: "Ecuador is a country with very high biodiversity rates, its constitution, with an ecocentric foundation, reflects that…This isn't about nature as a resource, but nature as Mother Earth, as having intrinsic value and therefore the standards the court applied are substantial."

The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement (documentary), March 31, 2020.

WW0 COP26 Talks: Dr. Cécile Girardin, Science Lead, Oxford Biodiversity Network, November 10, 2021.