Words: Elaine Quinn
Image Credits: Open Source
Reading Time: 1 minute

At the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York in June, the Earth Law Center – representing over sixty earth-centred organisations from around the world called for promotion and adoption of a “holistic and rights-based governance of the ocean, including incorporating the inherent rights of the ocean into law and policy. These rights include: the right to life, the right to health, the right to be free of pollution and the right to continue its vital cycles.”

Governments, stakeholders, businesses and civil society representatives worldwide gathered at the conference whose premise was to “reverse the decline in the health of our ocean, planet and prosperity.” Darlene Lee, Executive Director of the Earth Law Center said: “The ongoing struggle for rights is marked by a handful of milestones that fundamentally changed society. People of color, indigenous people, women, children, the disabled and refugees have all had to fight for basic recognition as members of the rights-holding community. Earth Law Center believes that achieving fundamental rights for nature will be society’s next major rights-based milestone, as part of a larger movement towards “Earth Law” (like “Human Rights Law” but for the planet). The opportunity of catalyzing this change at this week’s conference means focusing on the Ocean’s own well-being with principles of sustainability, ecosystem health, precaution, and interconnectedness.”

Although the conference did not conclude with any adoption of the holistic and rights-based governance put forward by the ELC, it said on its website that it will “continue to garner support and promote this approach within the United Nations and International Treaty Law.” The Rights of Nature and Earth Law movement is really gaining traction over the last couple of years with four rivers having been granted legal personhood status in 2017 (Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, and the Atrato River in Colombia). Mumta Ito of Rights of Nature UK has also announced that the UK could shortly see its first rights of nature law. Read more about the UN Ocean Conference on the Earth Law website here. Read the Earth Law statement to the UN here.

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