THE RIGHT TO EXIST OF SPECIES AND ECOSYSTEMSCharter for Recognizing the Right to Exist of Fauna and Flora Species, and Ecosystems
Nature is in existential peril. The existential threat to species and ecosystems has never been as great as it is today. The dangers of species’ extinction caused by human activities continue at an alarming rate. A quarter of mammals are at risk of extinction according to IUCN Red List estimates. Natural ecosystems are now only surviving in certain areas. Previous efforts to save the environment—necessary, worthy and noble as they are—have so far failed to halt its progressive damage and destruction. The proposed charter is a quantum leap in environmental efforts in three ways: (1) ethically, (2) legally and (3) structurally:
(1) Ethically, because it will recognize for the first time ever under international law that every natural species has an inherent right to exist, and that designated ecosystems have the right to exist. It will give them both (the former as species, the latter once they are voluntarily designated by country or countries over them) the same inherent and inalienable right to exist. These rights have been extended in some places to corporations—why not to species and to designated ecosystems?
(2) Legally, because the proposed charter will then allow NGOs and activists to legally protect endangered species and designated territories by raising court cases on their behalf. This is not only a legislative quantum leap, but it also empowers activists to sue irresponsible parties—be they governments, corporations, or individuals—on behalf of endangered species and designated/protected ecosystems. It enables NGOs and activists to seek legal damages, and therefore gives real ‘teeth’ to nature, as it were, and real disincentives to irresponsible parties.
(3) Structurally, because for the first time ever (and this is crucial) it takes power away from the violators—be they corporations, governments, or individuals—and gives power to nature via its defenders (NGOs and activists). It gives ‘the carrot’ to those who had previously held (and misused) ‘the stick’, and gives ‘the stick’ to those who had previously only held (and powerlessly held out) ‘the carrot’. It is time to recognize and call out the weakness in human nature that will keep seeking short financial gain at the expense of the well-being of future generations. This has been the stumbling block of past environmental efforts. It is time to put in place a structure that will save humanity from itself.
Moreover, unlike past/other environmental efforts, this charter is structurally grounded in grim but workable realism in the sense that it does not attempt to save all of nature, but only selected parts of it. If all of nature is saved, then well and good, but if not, humanity must save whatever it can of it.
Finally, it should be noted that humanity is entirely dependent on nature for its own survival: not just for its air, its water, its food but for its mental health. Giving nature rights in order to save it, will not only save humanity as well, but will make humanity humane. It is the ultimate act of preservation, self-preservation and self-salvation.
In 2008, Ecuador, being one of the most environmentally diverse places on Earth, was the first country to incorporate the Rights of Nature into its national constitution. Their approach was to grant nature rights to something specific (restoration, regeneration, respect), and it resolved the issue of legal standing in the most comprehensive way possible; i.e., by granting it to everyone regardless of their relationship to a particular piece of land—they can go to court to protect it.
At least 22 other countries have now recognized rights of nature. For example, in 2018, The Supreme Court of Columbia granted the Amazon River legal rights. Similarly, the Te Urewera Forest (2014) of New Zealand was given legal status while the Whanganui River and Mount Taranaki (2017) in New Zealand, as well as the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, were granted rights of nature and legal personhood. Most comprehensively, the EU has already made 20% of the land within its borders “protected territory”.
The proposed charter will build on these national and regional laws and make them global and international, for the first time in history.
Although this Charter started with a series of international workshops in 2019, it has become more critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely the result of human-caused disturbance to the balance of nature, a disruption in its dynamic equilibrium. Prolonged inhumane human behaviors that are practiced in certain societies around the globe have led to a relationship between humans and nature that is anti-symbiotic: humans have long damaged nature, and nature has responded in kind. According to the World Economic Forum’s article COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery. (14 April 2020), “As some people opt to invade forests and wild landscapes due to business interests and others at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum are forced to search for resources for survival, we damage the ecosystems, risking that viruses from animals find new hosts — us.”
Just as animals have immune systems, as a living system, nature has a defense mechanism: it reacts against the world by disrupting that which harms it. To quote from the WEF’s article, “We have lost 60% of all wildlife in the last 50 years, while the number of new infectious diseases has quadrupled in the last 60 years. It is no coincidence that the destruction of ecosystems has coincided with a sharp increase in such diseases.”
Thus the Charter could help significantly in preventing further pandemics, and hence could be vital to the world economy.
The charter is concerned with two principles: the moral right of species’ existence, and the moral right of protected areas and/or ecosystems’ existence.
Principle 1: All naturally-occurring species of fauna and flora have—as species per se—an inherent and inalienable right to exist. Contracting States must protect them from endangerment so as to prevent extinction. Contracting States agree that the designation of a species on the IUCN Red List as ‘endangered’ requires the State or States upon which the said species is present to take all necessary steps to protect the said species against endangerment and, a fortiori, extinction.
The aim here is to: protect from endangerment and save all naturally-occurring species of fauna and flora—as species—from extinction, and ensure and preserve their continuing viable survival in their natural state and habitats.
Principle 2: Nationally-designated and internationally-designated ‘protected areas and / or ecosystems’ have the right to exist. Contracting States must protect them from endangerment and, a fortiori, destruction.
The aim here is to: save nationally-designated and internationally-designated ‘protected areas and/or ecosystems’ from man-made threats to their destruction, and ensure their continuing survival.
The first public step in this initiative was convened by H.M. King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein through a workshop that was held on 21-23 October, 2019 in Amman to deliberate over and draft the general principles of the charter. This workshop brought together representatives from leading environmental NGOs and experts from relevant UN agencies to reach an agreement on the general principles of a charter aiming at providing a legal basis to litigate the defense of the fundamental right to exist of ecosystems, flora, and fauna in designated areas. Spearheaded by H.M. King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein and like-minded leaders and partners, the call was proposed as a Charter at the UNGA 75 (September 2020). Will humanity rise to the challenge and save itself?
May this charter be a gift to all humanity and all sentient beings.