The Global Alliance was founded in 2010 in Ecuador, to support the advancement of Rights of Nature worldwide. This meeting was the first time the Global Alliance had met in person since its founding in 2010 and I was invited to attend as the European representative on its Executive Committee.
Whilst recognising the carbon impact of hosting a meeting such as this, and the distances people have to travel to get to South America, in order to build an effective movement it is essential for people to meet up in person from time to time. It is for this reason that the Global Alliance raised funds to host the Summit. Also, we particularly wanted to host the event in Ecuador to draw attention to the situation there. Ecuador was the first country in the world to include Rights of Nature in its constitution in 2008, in response to a grass roots movement led by indigenous people. The government was initially supportive of this approach but in recent years has been pursuing a policy of opening up the country to oil exploration and mining, and behaving in a repressive way towards anyone who opposes this. We wanted to show the Ecuadorian government, which is sensitive to its reputation abroad, that the international community is following what is happening in Ecuador and is supportive of campaigners within the country. We also wanted to give Ecuadorian activists, both indigenous and of European descent, the opportunity to meet and be heard by the international community.
It was an invaluable opportunity to hear from campaigners and activists around the world about current trends, both positive and negative. On the scary side we heard sobering presentations from both Ecuadorians about how the rainforest is under increasing threat from oil extraction and the government is seeking to demonise indigenous people who are simply standing up for preservation of the rainforest and their way of life, and from the international community about how nature is under assault from the mining and fossil fuels industries. I was particularly alarmed to hear about the situation in Australia where environmental protection legislation is being scrapped to allow for huge coal mines in Queensland which are likely to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. It brought home to me that no-one is going to sort this out for us – not governments, corporations or large NGOs. The only way to turn the tide is for each and every citizen to become actively engaged in what is happening in our world. As activist Marianne Williamson says:
"The secret of success is to realize that the crisis on our planet is much larger than just deciding what to do with your own life, and if the system under which we live, the structure of western civilization, begins to collapse because of our selfishness and greed, then it will make no difference whether you have $1 million dollars when the crash comes or just $1.00. The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world."
On the positive side I was heartened to see how the concept of Rights of Nature is gaining support around the world. The strategy of the Global Alliance is to form alliances with other movements and encourage them to advocate for Rights of Nature at grassroots, national and international levels. The Alliance has successfully formed links with women groups, indigenous people and the wilderness movement. Further movements we seek to connect with are youth, faith groups and peasant movements such as La Via Campesina. As Vandana Shiva pointed out, “Rights of Nature is not a new idea. All successful societies have operated within environmental limits. It is only in recent times that we have sought to deny any limits on our behaviour – the current era is the exception rather than the norm”.
On a personal level I found it very touching and inspiring to hear from the indigenous Ecuadorian people. For them, every aspect of nature is sacred and they have a deep understanding and respect for the natural environment they live in, whether mountains or rainforest. They also have an immensely rich and sophisticated inner spiritual life, which more than makes up for the material simplicity of their lives. To be removed from their land is a catastrophe for them as it destroys their whole culture and way of life. I felt for their vulnerability and after spending time with them they each appealed for help when we were leaving by asking “please do not forget us”.
Permanent Tribunal for Rights of Nature
Immediately after the summit we held the first sitting of the Permanent Tribunal for Rights of Nature in Quito, attended by over 200 people. This high profile event was designed to provide an opportunity for as many Ecuadorians as possible to engage with the international movement. The Ecuadorian government hosted its own Rights of Nature event in parallel to this, so our actions clearly had an impact.
The tribunal, chaired by Vandana Shiva, heard eight submissions about breaches of Rights of Nature around the world, and its Tribunal of judges ruled on whether there was a case to answer. The Tribunal will hold sittings at locations around the world, such as COP 20 in Lima in December 2014, and aims to build up a body of jurisprudence on the application of Rights of Nature principles.
What next for Wild Law UK?
As a result of the learning from the global summit we are developing new initiatives which will support creating new laws and changing mindsets. We will be announcing these over the next few months.
I’m excited to see how Rights of Nature is taking hold across the world and how diverse movements are uniting under this banner. As Victor Hugo said “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time as come”.