Earth Rights

When I was doing my internship in Brussels for the past three months at the European Parliament, I
received on invitation of FYEG. It was saying that in London would be an ‘Alternative Conference for
the Rio Summit’ in June. Thanks to the Young Greens in Muenster/Germany who covered my travel
expenses  from  Brussels  to  London,  I  could take the night bus to London to participate at that
After a long, rather sleepless night, I arrived in London at 5 o´clock in the morning and had time for
an  early  sight-seeing  tour  in  London  before  I  arrived  at  the  University  of  London  where  the
conference took place.  In one of the workshop that were offered from the  Campaign against
Climate Change who organized the conference, I got to know the most interesting and fascinating
demand for change in values that I´ve ever heard of! It was in the workshop called “Law: New
Frameworks and Concepts for a New Era of Environmental Progress and Justice” that I heard the
term EARTH RIGHTS for the first time in my life.

Polly Higgens, an international environmental lawyer, is the initiator of Earth Rights. On that Sunday,
in the middle of June, she told the audience in the crowded room about the absolutely necessary need
to change our legal system to protect the environment on the international level.
She said that our law protects what we value most. We value freedom of speech, so our law protect
freedom of speech. We value human rights, so we changed our laws to protect these rigths. But on
the  international  level there is no law that protects the Earth. Therefor, we need a Charter of
Environmental  Rights  which  grants  the  Earth  the  right  to  life  and  the  right  to  exist.  Now
environmental rights are left to property owners. This opens the door for logging companies to cut
down the lungs of the world, the remaining rainforests. What we are doing to our planet right now, is
a crime against Earth (ecocide) as Polly said.
Ecocide per definition is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given
territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment
by the inhabitations of that territory has been severely diminished (Polly Higgins/2011). Therefor
ecocide should be added as the 5th crime against peace.  The other four crimes against peace are
crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression.  As soon as an ecosystem is
destroyed, the peace of the people living within this area is threatened. This is why companies and
states need to have a legal duty to be responsible for their actions and to protect life (from pollution
or  deforestation).  Human-made  ecocide,  for example, is mining, fossil fuel extraction, fracking,
deforestation, or BP Gulf oil spill.
Earth rights would give our planet the legal right to exist. This would be a great shift in values! At the
moment the Earth is regarded as an infinite resource, a commodity, on which you can put a price tag
to sell it. But instead earth is a living body which has to be legally protected to give her enough space
to exist and life!
Some countries with native knowledge in its population already introduce such a law. For instance, Bolivia
introduced the draft Law of Mother Earth which aims to establish new rights for nature. Ecuador is the most advanced country in recognizing Earth laws.
In 2010 Ecuador stated that “nature has no price”. The environmental minister of Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are working on the constitution for the new Ministerial Committee on the Defense of Nature.
It is our duty to adopt our legal system to these circumstances. We have to stop industry from
destroying our livelihood. The Earth can not be a commodity any longer!
When I was listing to Polly’s presentation it felt like a life-changing moment to me. It was the most
interesting workshop I have ever participated! Earth rights hit right into the source of climate change.
They are the cure to this “illness” which shows itself with many different symptoms like pollution,
temperature increase, sea level rise, overfishing, deforestation and extreme weather events.
Introducing human rights into the legal systems was not easy, but necessary. To abandon slavery was
not easy, but necessary. Earth rights will not be easy, but are absolutely necessary!
In 2003 I had the possibility to travel into the Ecuadorian rainforest. These days belong to the happiest
days I have experienced. It was so amazing to be deep in the rainforest and to enjoy the purity of its nature.
It  made  me  very  happy. I felt like being in a living body. So now, I know Earth rights are an
absolutely indisputable law we need to introduce to give out Mother Earth the legal protection it
And as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development from 1992 states (principle 21). The
creativity,  ideals  and  courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global
partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.

Molina Gosch, (Young Greens Muenster, Germany)


Polly Higgins wrote two books about Earth Rights.
1.  Eradicating  Ecocide  –  Law  and  Governance  to  Prevent  the  Destruction  of  our  Planet
(Shepheard Walwym , 2010)
2.  Earth is our Business (Shepheard Walwym, 2011)