15th September 2022
We have gained legal rights slowly: The right to live, to don't be discriminated against, to be healthy… Now, finally, Nature has got its legal rights, too. Those are the so-called Rights of Nature. El Mar Menor in Spain has shifted from ''object'' to ''subject''. It is the first ecosystem in Europe to achieve this milestone. We have talked via Zoom with Susana Borrás, an international law expert, to understand what it means.
Susana is a professor of International Public Law at The University of Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, Spain) with a PhD in Environmental Law. In addition, she is part of the UN scheme Nature with Armony, a multidisciplinary advisory panel based on scientific facts to support governments in the fight against the climate crisis. She has closely followed Mar Menor’sMenor’s timeline and can explain to us what means Mar Menor has achieved the Rights of Nature for the first time in Europe.
The Green Bee: Hi Susana, thank you very much for talking with us. The first question is obvious; can a tree, or in this case Mar Menor, have rights as we have?
Susana Borrás: Hello, it’s my pleasure to talk with you. Yes, trees, rivers… Nature can a should have rights as we humans have. Law is a human construction, and we can use it to improve life. Actually, our rights come from Nature’s existence. Therefore, the Rights of Nature are related to how we protect it. Until now, our law was based on an anthropocentric perspective, now is turning to an ecocentric.
In other words, traditionally, we have focused on protecting, without great success, the natural resources that had an interest for us, but not necessarily because of their ecological and biological value. Now, this new ecocentric vision is based on the natural value for the planet.
With this new legal set, we consider Nature a subject we must protect rather than just an object with protection. We have been able to give rights to no-human legal personhood. We have done it with companies and corporations, but now we do it with Nature and we think it’s weird. We should recall that Nature is the necessary precondition to guarantee human existence; just for this, it is required to rethink how we will protect it to protect us.
TGB: Providing legal personhood with its rights to Nature sounds good, but what does it mean in practical terms?
S.B.: In practical terms, it means we consider its protection as a «living community» and, at the same time, provide higher protection that legally engages us. So, for instance, one of the consequences is that everybody could go to court on Mar Menor’s behalf. It is an essential step as previously only could do it NGOs with ecologic defence in its mission or someone who has been affected. Furthermore, this forces the administration to set rules to defend, protect and rewild any damage. Scientific committees and public bodies will establish this.
Rights of Nature not only will help us to report who is behind the ecocide, but to set rules to restore. This will allow us to have a different relationship with Nature at the legal level. The initiative in Mar Menor is a huge success as it has joined many people with a common target: To defend an ecosystem. Moreover, many people realise how big is our footprint on nature.
TGB: There are many other initiatives related to the Rights of Nature, but this is the first one to succeed in Europe; how important it is?
N.C.: Very important. Firstly, it will have a multiplying effect. Citizens groups which are leading similar campaigns will get more confident. Secondly, it will show that a change is possible and will ease other countries within the EU to form their cases. Other countries are looking for something similar. The Spanish example will work as a basis.
It will have a a multiplying effect
TGB: What other ecosystem will benefit from the Mar Menor example?
S.B.: There are other ecosystems. For example, in Netherland, the movement for the Maas River is currently in progress. There are more in Belgium, Italy and France; however, many won’t do it as law for a specific ecosystem but want to change the legal framework. Mar Menor is the first case which is looking for this formula.
It is wishful. It shows a growing eco-awareness among the general public and helps nature protection and respect further than the current laws.
As it happened with the ecological movement, it will begin somewhere and spread to the following country. It is much easier for legal makers when they have precedents to support statements during the legal process.
TGB: I understand legal precedents make law maker’s life easier, but at the end of the day, it is up to the politicians. In that sense, how do you feel about the atmosphere in Europe?
S.B.: The environment in the EU is significantly damaged. Despite being the most active regulation area, it is where most faults have. From Brussels, they should impose fines on those who break the rule, and Mar Menor has broken three rules: Fertilisers, habitat and water framework. The EU could withdraw funds to national projects, as the Spanish government hold the ultimate responsibility, not the local authorities. This won’t fix the damage already done; the key is prevention. This is why the Rights of Nature are so important.
However, the bottom line is that we are not able to connect with Nature. We prioritise our interests over the Planet Earth, which is a mistake. For a long time, we have been in a climate crisis; we are unaware of how dangerous it is to cross planet boundaries.
Nonetheless, we can spot a small light with those ecosocial movements. They are growing daily and gaining importance, and achieving their targets. But, honestly, I don’t think the change will come from the political elite. The most significant changes have come from the basis of the society, and Mar Menor initiative has been proof of that. It has gained the Rights of Nature.
- What is your dream job?
Be able of living growing my own food in my garden without working
- Favourite Food?
I love grill veggie and pulse.
- Do you have pets?
I live in a rural area and a cat chose me as a pet. He is one of my best friends.
- Place that would you love to visit?
Tasmania (Australia) or New Zeland
- Any hobbies?
Jogging and hiking in the mountain, or look after my garden