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6th International Conference on the Rights of Nature for Peace and Sustainable Development

A report from Colin Robertson

Every year the NGO Objectif Sciences International (OSI) organises a Forum in Geneva in the Peace Palace of the United Nations (http://www.osi-genevaforum.org). In 2017 this took place between 11 and 15 December. The Forum actually comprises several conferences, all linked by the theme of peace and sustainable development. The subject matter of these conferences covers a wide range of matters and includes among other things: rights of nature, science, finance, sustainable tourism, inclusive teaching, and citizens of the world. The subject that is of interest for us here is the first one, and three half days were devoted to it on 11 and 12 December 2017.

In 2016 just a single day was devoted to rights of nature, and for a report in French of that conference please refer to the Bulletin of the Association Luxembourgeoise pour les Nations Unies . One can accordingly see how the topic is acquiring increasing importance. It reflects the rapidly growing concerns over the health of our planet, our shared home, and of its inhabitants who are vanishing. The need to act is becoming ever more urgent. We must change our ideas, our ways of seeing, of understanding and of acting, and we must do so extremely fast. In particular we must integrate ecology into our laws and open real possibilities for every being to be able to reproduce and live in good health. Recognising rights to nature form part of this process. To which one may add the concept of legal personality in order to permit elements of nature to be able to be represented in the decision-making processes. With these words, we enter into the field of discussion of the conference, and we move to the centre of the preoccupations which are the reasons why it took place.

groups of people at a meeting

In order to prepare the conference on rights of nature OSI took an early decision to create a small group of advisers. Under the guidance and support of Mr Thomas Egli, President of OSI, four persons were invited and took part as deputy chairs and moderators in the conference: Lisa MEAD, Lawyer, Earth Law Alliance (http://earthlawyers.org/)and Valérie CABANES, Lawyer, Juriste, Spokesperson for the Initiative End Ecocide on Earth (https://www.endecocide.org/fr/), deputy presidents; Doris Ragettli, Rights of Mother Earth (http://petition.rightsofmotherearth.com/ - please see and sign the on-line petition to support the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth) and Colin ROBERTSON, Lawyer-linguist, member of rights of nature networks and author of this article, moderators.

three people in front of a banner

The structure of the conference on rights of nature followed the same approach as in 2016, but with certain changes. The five-minute presentations, mainly in Powerpoint, or pre-recorded videos for participants who could not be present in person, were grouped together according to three headings: Make Nature the Centre of People’s Priorities (Monday afternoon), Strategies for Defence of Rights of Nature (Tuesday morning), and Make People Nature’s Helper (Tuesday afternoon). The presentations covered many individual themes, among others: the concept of ‘living well’(‘buen vivir’) in harmony with nature, the inauguration of ELGA (Ecological Law and Governance Association, https://www.elga.world/), the activities of CELDF in the USA (https://celdf.org/), the concept of legal personality for elements of nature, the New Zealand Law that recognises legal personality in a river (http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2017/0007/latest/whole.html), the question of property rights in the context of nature rights, an urgent project for a Universal Nature/Man Declaration (available via declhumanat@gmail.com), and last but not least Maria Mercedes SANCHEZ, who joined us by telephone from New York on the UN Harmony with Nature Programme (http://www.harmonywithnatureun.org/).

Each of the three sessions of presentations was followed by an exercise in group work. In the organisers’ minds was the concept of ‘world café’. The exercise took as its framework of reference the eight themes of the Harmony with Nature Programme: earth-centred law; ecological economics; education, holistic science and research; humanities; philosophy and ethics; arts, media, design and architecture; theology and spirituality.

For each of the themes a flip chart with large sheets of paper was set up in the meeting room. The participants were invited to form groups around a flip chart for 20 minutes, and then to move to another flip chart and a different group. Their task each time was to work together to share views and propose answers to four questions: What needs or goals do you see? What are the barriers and the drivers? What solutions do you want? What must change to open the way for new solutions? The participants were all completely free to express their opinions. They were simply asked to write up answers to the questions on the flip charts. At the end of the third session, the results were presented to the whole gathering. It was found that there existed a desire to rethink our attitudes and our methods in order to take full account of the dimension of nature.

people in conference location

For the remainder, the conference was introduced and closed by a water ceremony (Gratitude to Water) led by Danielea Castell. (http://waterharmony.org/danielea-castell.html). This innovation set the tone to the whole conference, as the participants had been invited to bring a flask of water from home. The water remained in the meeting room throughout the discussions, and at the end they returned home to mix the discussions into the waters of the entire earth. Many contacts, currently being actively followed up, were made throughout the conference. A great success then for the rights of nature for peace and sustainable development, with much hope for the future.

Colin D. Robertson

(This article is based on a French version for publication in the January/February 2018 edition of the Bulletin of ALNU, available on-line from their website http://www.alnu.lu under Publications, Bulletin. Take the opportunity to study their site generally as they undertake interesting projects with local schools in relation to the UN.)