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“The message our Living Forest proposal delivers is aimed at the entire world with the goal of reaching the hearts and minds of human beings everywhere, encouraging us all to reflect on the close relation between Human Rights and the Rights of Nature.”‎ —From Kawsak Sacha, The Living Forest: An Indigenous Proposal for Confronting Climate Change, presented by the Amazonian Kichwa People of Sarayaku, Ecuador

December 2015 found all eyes on Paris as government representatives from around the world debated and finalized a new international climate change agreement at the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations. The news was abuzz with stories and analysis about the Paris agreement and the commitments (or lack thereof) made by world governments, however it was just outside of the narrow glance of the mainstream media that actions and events for bold transformative change were taking place.

Mirian Cisneros, Ena Santi and Nina Gualinga open the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris with a traditional ceremony of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo credit: Emily Arasim
Mirian Cisneros, Ena Santi and Nina Gualinga open the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris with a traditional ceremony of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

Civil society, non-governmental and community organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people from diverse social movements and international networks gathered during the Paris climate negotiations for major actions on the streets, hundreds of events, assemblies, concerts and educational workshops focused on just, community driven climate solutions.

It is critical to highlight these peoples’ movement initiatives, planned in parallel to COP21 proceedings, because they are the ones bringing about the socio-ecologic and systemic transformation that concerned people around the world are calling forth—from decentralized energy systems and food sovereignty to Indigenous rights and gender-responsive climate policies.

Like inconspicuous stones cast into a deep pond, the ripples from these alternative proceedings are reaching outward and broadening into ever widening circles, connecting one to another and spreading worldwide.

So it was that two significant ripples that demonstrate respect for Nature and the natural laws of the Earth, topics stunningly absent from the UN negotiations, radiated out into the corridors of COP21, to civil society gatherings and onto the streets of Paris. One ripple was the growing global movement for the Rights of Nature, the other, going hand-in-hand, the potent voice of the Indigenous Kichwa People of Sarayaku, Ecuador and their Living Forest Proposal.

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Rights of Nature is a revolutionary and evolutionary concept, at the heart of which lies a key to addressing our horrifically dysfunctional economic system and the legal, social and political frameworks that are destroying people and planet.

Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN International) and Pablo Solón (Fundación Solón) present a Rights of Nature Press Conference inside COP21 in Paris. Photo credit: Emily Arasim
Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network), Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN International) and Pablo Solón (Fundación Solón) present a Rights of Nature Press Conference inside COP21 in Paris. Photo credit: Emily Arasim

The Rights of Nature framework originated from the understanding that after decades of environmental protection laws (which surely have achieved some notable successes), our modern legal systems have failed to prevent the increasingly grave threats of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the growing displacement of humans and other species.

The majority of the world’s legal frameworks are based on treating nature as property, meaning that our life-giving rivers, forests and mountains are seen as objects to be sold and consumed. Our current legal paradigm furthers dangerous ideas around the commodification and financialization of nature, and we can see the disastrous results of this way of thinking.

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