Legal recognition of nature’s inherent rights through Earth Law

Published: 01 March 2018
Last edited: 01 April 2019

The Sustainability Rights Ordinance is based on the concept that nature has inherent rights, just as humans enjoy inherent human rights. The rights of nature movement is growing worldwide. For example, in 2017, four rivers earned recognition of their legal personhood (in New Zealand, India, and Colombia).


Legal and policy frameworks, policy advocacy
Scale of implementation
Phase of solution
Planning phase
Inception phase

Enabling factors

The conditions are (1) local advocates supportive of the rights of nature, (2) lawmakers or judges willing to consider rights of nature as an alternative to the current legal paradigm under which nature is property, and (3) professional legal support from experienced rights of nature campaigners (e.g., Earth Law Center).

Lessons learned

Having an inside champion is essential to the success of rights of nature laws. In our case, a member of the Santa Monica Environmental Task Force (a quasi-governmental body led by citizens) was extremely supportive, which helped us earn an audience with the City of Santa Monica. Additionally, careful legal analysis and drafting is necessary to create a legally-defensible rights of nature law. One aspect that could work better is a specific timeline for full implementation of a rights of nature law as well as specific funding mechanism, as this is necessary to ensure the rights of nature are actually enforced on the ground. 

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