On 27 April 2021, the Blue Mountains City Council unanimously decided to move forward with a new program of action that will see the ‘Rights of Nature’ concepts inform its long-term planning and operational activities. The council is the first government entity in Australia to adopt Rights of Nature as a “keystone concept”.
“It's a paradigm shift, where nature is recognised as having its own legal right to exist, regenerate and evolve,” Cr Brent Hoare told the council.
Honouring the rights of nature was first proposed as a concept by Professor Christopher Stone in the 1972 article, "Should trees have standing?". He challenged the legal premise that nature and trees are treated as objects in the eyes of the law and therefore have no rights. He recognised that for nature to have rights under the law, our legal system would need to be rewritten.
“It’s looking back to the western legal governance system and going, ‘What kind of culture develops the systems we have now that created such devastation? Can rights of nature be a bridge into a different, Earth-centered way of being?’,” Dr Michelle Maloney, co-founder of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance told The Guardian.
The Rights of Nature has been emerging as a legal and social movement around the world. In 2006 the Environmental Legal Defense Fund used the concept to defend a community’s right to reject sludge being dumped into their town. In 2008 Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the rights of nature in its constitution. In 2014 New Zealand granted legal personhood to the Te Uruwera Forest, and in 2017 to the Whanganui and Mount Taranaki rivers.
Back in the Blue Mountains, the council will host community workshops and discussions with Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to explore what Rights of Nature mean for the people and economies of the region.
“The Council sees this process as a critical way to meet its obligations for long term social and environmental health,” said Councillor Brent Hoare. “In the 21st Century we’re facing tremendous challenges – with climate change, the related threat of increasingly ferocious bushfires, the biodiversity crisis and a changing economy. Rights of Nature can help catalyse an innovative rethinking about how to create regenerative, not extractivist, economies, while also making human and other living communities safer, stronger and more resilient,” said Councillor Hoare.
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