Rights of Nature

Rights of Nature

During the last two decades, the connections between nature, human beings, and law have become a relevant object of study around the globe. The constitutionalization of rights of nature in Bolivia and Ecuador, along with the recognition of the rights of rivers in New Zealand and Canada and of a lake in India are exemplary cases that have attracted the attention of legal scholars both in the Global North and South. The worldwide movement has also reached Europe, where the implementation of rights of nature is being discussed and pursued in several countries. This ground-breaking approach has sparked the interest of Institute director Ralf Michaels and of Daniel Bonilla, professor of law at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. The two served as general rapporteurs for the topic “Global Legal Pluralism – Rights of Nature” as part of the twenty-first General Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law.

Studying the rights of nature allows for an examination of four topics of particular interest for comparative law and global legal pluralism: the processes of cross-fertilization between national legal systems; the interaction, clash, and mutual influence between national legal systems and international law; the relationships between transnational theoretical discourse, international law, and national legal systems; and the geopolitics of legal knowledge.

Rights of nature is an exciting topic, in part because it is a legal concept from the Global South that is inspiring the Global North rather than vice versa, which makes it a reverse legal transplant. Although the idea of rights of nature does not fit as neatly into the European tradition of ‘subjective law’, these cultural differences do not fundamentally stand in the way of the transplant.

– Institute Director Ralf Michaels –

The project pursues the following four objectives:

  • To examine how the dialogue between legal systems in both the Global South and the Global North has contributed to the creation of national and international concepts, rules, and principles related to the rights of nature.
  • To explore how national legal systems and international law have interacted to allow for both the articulation of a transnational discourse on the rights of nature and the creation of national and international legal regimes that aim to regulate the relationship between human beings and nature.
  • To analyse the way in which transnational theoretical discourses on the rights of nature have interacted with and been used at different levels by very diverse participants from local and transnational non-governmental organizations and governments to international institutions, universities, political parties, and ordinary citizens.
  • To study the processes of producing, exchanging, using, and legitimating legal knowledge that cut across the discourse on the rights of nature.

To achieve these ends, approximately twenty-five national rapporteurs, chosen mainly by the national committees of the International Academy of Comparative Law, are currently drafting national reports on the project’s object of study based on a detailed questionnaire.

Ralf Michaels and Daniel Bonilla have further chosen a group of special rapporteurs to report on aspects related to the international and theoretical dimensions of the rights of nature. The two general rapporteurs will also be in charge of drafting a general report that conceptually bridges the national and special reports. The general report will consist of a dialogue between the rights of nature on one hand and globalization and legal pluralism on the other, whereby the rights of nature is neither a simple case study of the latter two nor the raison d’être of the inquiry. The general report will intertwine the particular with the general objects of study.

Rights of nature are interesting both politically and epistemologically. From a political point of view, rights of nature take a position on the relationship between human beings and nature that is biocentric and in conflict with the anthropocentric view that usually goes hand in hand with modern constitutionalism. From an epistemological perspective, the paradigmatic views on rights of nature are based on Indigenous knowledge, a type not generally considered to be a legitimate source of legal and political knowledge.

– Daniel Bonilla –

The general report along with selected national and special reports will be published by Intersentia.
Further information on the IACL and the Congress
Further information on the publication will follow.

Additionally, Ralf Michaels and Daniel Bonilla together with Patricia Zalamea served as guest editors of the magazine Naturaleza y Sociedad on an issue entitled “The Rights of Nature: Dialogues between Law and the Arts” that will critically examine contemporary debates around the rights of nature both from a legal perspective and from the viewpoint of the arts:

Daniel Bonilla Maldonado , Ralf Michaels, Patricia Zalamea (eds.), Los derechos de la naturaleza: diálogos entre el derecho y las artes (Naturaleza y Sociedad. Desafíos Medioambientales no. 4/2022).

Header image:
In 2017, Whanganui River, New Zealand, became the first waterway in the world to get legal personhood. © shutterstock / PK289

Portrait Ralf Michaels: © Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law / Johanna Detering

Portrait Daniel Bonilla: private

Go to Editor View