UN’s ‘Harmony with Nature’ project: Urge need to ‘shift from a human-centered to an Earth-centred society’ – ‘COVID-19 pandemic was linked to the poor health of ecosystems’
On 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day. In so doing, Member States acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are our common home, and expressed their conviction that it is necessary to promote Harmony with Nature in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations. The same year, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature.
Devising a new world will require a new relationship with the Earth and with humankind’s own existence. Since 2009, the aim of the General Assembly, in adopting its nine resolutions on Harmony with Nature, has been to define this newly found relationship based on a non-anthropocentric relationship with Nature. The resolutions contain different perspectives regarding the construction of a new, non-anthropocentric paradigm in which the fundamental basis for right and wrong action concerning the environment is grounded not solely in human concerns. A step in this direction was further reaffirmed in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (2012), entitled “The future we want”:
“We recognize that planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that “Mother Earth” is a common expression in a number of countries and regions, and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development.”
Earth Jurisprudence (Earth Jur.) is a philosophy of law and human governance that is based on the idea that humans are only one part of a wider community of beings and that the welfare of each member of that community is dependent on the welfare of the Earth as a whole. This page consolidates all the Experts’ inputs on Earth Jurisprudence since the First Virtual Dialogue of the General Assembly was held in 2016.
In the report, the Secretary-General highlights achievements made in the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020 that further demonstrate a paradigm shift from a human-centred to an Earth-centred society in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In the statement, Ecuador, which constitutionally recognizes the rights of Nature, underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic was linked to the poor health of ecosystems and the abuse and illegal trade of wildlife and emphasized that the exercise of human rights depended on biodiversity conservation.
5. In a statement delivered on International Mother Earth Day, 22 April 2020, the President of the General Assembly emphasized that Mother Earth would only be preserved “through a paradigm shift from a human-centric society to an Earth-centred global ecosystem.”
6. The President added that doing so required engagement with everyone, including young people, and that education and training on harmony with Nature and Earth jurisprudence were critical to safeguarding Mother Earth and to creating a resilient world for everyone, everywhere. He praised Member States who promoted teachings from ancient cultures that had a deep connection with Nature and encouraged collaboration between civil society, the private sector, academia and the media in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in harmony with Nature.
7. In a statement commemorating International Mother Earth Day, the Secretary- General stressed that, while all eyes were on the COVID-19 pandemic, there was another life-threatening emergency: the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis. He emphasized that biodiversity was in steep decline, that climate disruption was approaching a point of no return, that the pandemic was an unprecedented wale-up call and that recovery must be viewed as a real opportunity to do things right for the future
In the present report, the Secretary-General stresses that the process of recovery from COVID-19 provides a unique opportunity to build back better, together, so as to transform the world into one where humans truly live in harmony with Nature
With the acceleration of climate change and ecosystems being pushed to collapse, the human right to a healthy environment cannot be achieved without securing Nature’s own rights first. More precisely, the human right to life is meaningless if the ecosystems that sustain humankind do not have the legal rights to exist. Furthermore, the rights of each sentient being are limited by the rights of all other beings to the extent necessary for the maintenance of the integrity, balance and health of larger ecological communities.
A first step to recognizing the rights of Nature is the recognition that non-human animals are sentient beings, not mere property, and must be afforded respect and legal recognition. Such recognition is growing around the world…
43. In recent years, lawyers worldwide have instituted court proceedings to obtain freedom for captive animals who need better living situations. For example, the Nonhuman Rights Project in the United States instituted court proceedings on behalf of elephants and chimpanzees, arguing that they should be treated as “persons” and freed from captivity. Many other countries recognize animals as sentient beings, and legal training on animal law and animal rights is on the rise worldwide.
64. Also in the United States, on 20 June 2020, the General Council of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho passed a resolution in which it recognizes the Snake River as a living entity that has rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, flow and regenerate and the right to restoration. Native Americans have long held the worldview that humans and Nature are inseparable. They are now beginning to formalize that belief through Western law.
79. In Sweden, the organizations Swedish Earth Rights Lawyers and Rights of Nature Sweden have drafted a declaration for the rights of Lake Vattern, in which protective rights would encompass all-natural water functions within Lake Vättern.
80. In Switzerland, in July 2019, the association ID-EAU launched an initiative to give legal personhood to the Rhône River.
81. In the United States, the Democratic National Committee Council on Environment and Climate Crisis, in its Environmental and Climate Policy Recommendations for the 2020 Democratic Party Platform, with regard to biodiversity and Nature, called, on 4 June 2020, for the establishment of a commission similar to the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, to explore incorporating rights-of-Nature principles into United States law. In Florida, as at 3 January 2020, various counties were advancing ballot votes on the rights of rivers to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve and rehydrate and on their right to restoration: a committee in Orange County was aiming to have rights granted to the Wekiva River and the Econlockhatchee River; petitioners in Alachua County were campaigning to have the Santa Fe River Bill of Rights passed; and citizens of Lee County were striving for the adoption of the Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights.
82. In the Holy See, the rights of Nature were recognized in the final document of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, convened by Pope Francis from 6 to 27 October 2019.
Furthermore, in Brazil, on World Environment Day, 5 June 2020, experts of the United Nations Harmony with Nature Knowledge Network published its Harmony Manifesto, in which it called for the extinction of the values and principles that have perpetuated the objectification of Nature and for the adoption of a universal declaration of the rights of Mother Earth.
85. A global freshwater summit will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, from 23 to 25 April 2021, to honour and recognize the rights of the Mississippi River and the Missouri River, with the aim of shining a light on the regenerative powers of freshwater biomes and the rivers’ right to flow.
92. The Harmony with Nature programme commends all efforts to develop and implement alternatives to the dominant growth-insistent economic model and the harnessing of lessons from the present moment in human history to develop regenerative systems. It emphasizes the need for jointly imagining and creating a new normalcy that prioritizes planetary health and human well-being for all.
93. The cases and developments in ecological economics and Earth-centred law presented in the report reveal promise and the potential to protect the planet and people. Worldwide, children and young people are gaining knowledge about those new pathways forward and are at the forefront of activities that give attention and momentum to Earth-centred alternatives.
94. Throughout its 75-year history, the United Nations has given a voice to the voiceless. Responsibility now lies with the Organization to be the champion of non-anthropocentrism and a voice on behalf of the natural world and to play a lead role for a twenty-first century global Earth-centred transition, in which the lives of all human and non-human species matter.
95. The process of recovery from COVID-19 provides us with a unique opportunity to build back better, together, so as to transform the world into one where humans truly live in harmony with Nature.