The Bolivian law will cause two fundamental changes to the legal status of the Earth. First of all it will grant the Earth legal personality. Secondly the Earth is characterised as being of “public interest”.
Giving the Earth legal personality means that it can, through its representatives, bring an action to defend its rights. Like a company or a ship currently can. This will put an end to much of the legal standing issues that NGOs come across when trying to stand in and defend nature from overexploitation or misuse. I can very well see a scenario where claims for climate change are made against industries which are emitting within legal limits but where environmental damage is being caused. I can predict that if implemented it will drive environmental policy at the highest level.
To say that the Earth is of public interest is also a major shift. There are many EU and UK laws which allow the public interest to trump over environmental concerns; the public interest not being normally defined as the well-being of the Earth community or the Earth, but determined largely by economic standards. By including the Earth in the public interest, there is an automatic shift from the human centric perspective to a more Earth community based perspective.
By including humans as part of those that have Earth rights, the Bolivian text has cleverly not only given rights to nature but also granted humans the right to a clean environment. Further it confirms that the interests of the Earth are in line with those of humans, our inextricable link for survival impossible to deny.
And if there is a conflict between human (individual) and Earth/human (collective) rights, how is this meant to be resolved? The law says that the bar, the limit will always be the destruction of living systems. As a lawyer I will be extremely interested in how the courts interpret this. Does it mean the complete destruction of a species, or ecosystem; or the probably/possible/likely/risk of this occurring?
So what are the Earth rights to be granted by Law? The Bolivian Law mentions the following, although it allows for flexibility and inclusion of other future rights: the right to life; the right to non corruption of the diversity of life; the right to water necessary to maintain living systems; the right to clean air; the right not to have the balance of the Earth cycles altered; the right to restoration of harm caused directly or indirectly by humans; and the right to live free of contamination including from toxic substances and radioactivity.
They don’t seem many, only 7 in number. Still, the consequences of adopting these rights are of an enormous consequence. They would remodel our society and how we live, including our economic systems.
More on this in my next Bolivian blog.