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Featured News Update: COP17 Global Exchange press release

From Global Exchange, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Global Justice Ecology Project



December 6, 2011 RIGHTS OF NATURE: A Legal Framework to Hold Industry Accountable to the Earth

December 6, 2011, COP17, Durban, South Africa -- Who should decide if Engen builds more coal-fired power plants in South Africa to give BHP Billiton the world’s cheapest electricity? Who should decide if mining activities threaten homes or rivers, or if oil companies can expand refineries or frack the Karoo: corporations or communities?


Since 2006, over 125 communities in the United States have passed laws that place the rights of residents and nature above corporate interests. In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation to recognize Rights of Nature in its constitution, after generations of watching its fragile ecosystems destroyed by mining, drilling and other practices. In 2010, led by Indigenous Peoples, 35,00 people gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia to draft the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. Today, with the spotlight on Durban, a movement is growing to bring these legal rights to Africa.


“For too long we have been made the sacrifice zone for the profit of a rich minority,” said Desmond D’sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance. “As long as multinational corporations hold the power to decide our fate, we will not have justice for those suffering from sickness, poverty, and discrimination.”


Under current law, nature is property, with no right to resist the onslaught of corporate greed. How different would our world look if the Amazon could sue oil companies for damages, or if BP were legally accountable to the Gulf of Mexico? What if the law protected the rights of Gauteng and Mpumalanga from Acid Mine Drainage?


“Over 2 dozen communities in the US have rewritten local laws to defend the rights of nature, and have succeeded in holding back fracking, waste dumping, mining permits and water privatization,” said Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange. “National governments now are beholden only to corporate profit – which is why there is gridlock at COP17. The Rights of Nature will take national interests out of the hands of corporations and put it where it belongs – with Mother Earth.”


Tom Goldtooth, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said, “I’ve come to Durban with a message from our indigenous traditional wisdom keepers: world leaders need to reevaluate their relationship to the sacredness of mother earth. As indigenous peoples, we see the COP process as a bottleneck in moving international agreements away from seeing nature as property, and towards giving nature rights to exist and flourish.”


It is increasingly clear that, even were fossil fuels to stay in the ground, even if national governments were to meet binding emissions reduction targets, even if promises of funding for mitigation, adaptation, and technology transfer were met, the transition to a green economy that is being promoted by the UNFCCC and all of the multilateral agencies is built upon a foundation that turns the earth’s gifts into speculative commodities. With a legal approach based on the Rights of Nature, we have the means to move away from a paradigm that enslaves the earth, toward a just and livable future.


“Nature is a subject of rights, and we need to defend them,” said Natalie Greene.




Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange: 021 835 778 8847


Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project: 073 623 0619


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