The Rights of Nature as a Legal Response to the Global Environmental Crisis? A critical review of international law’s ‘greening’ agenda

Jérémie Gilbert, Emily Jones, Julia Dehm, Elizabeth Macpherson

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Over the past decade and a half, various natural entities have been recognised as having rights or legal personhood in certain domestic jurisdictions. The idea of nature as rights-bearing is seen by advocates to be a new and improved response to environmental threats. While rights of nature approaches are increasingly evident in transnational law, orthodox international law has yet to engage seriously with such approaches, despite increasing calls to recognise the rights of nature in international law. In this article we consider the potential and limitations of rights-based protections of nature as part of the ‘greening’ of international law. We argue that attempts to incorporate the rights of nature into international law need to be understood within the wider context and history of international law, including trajectories of colonialism and economic resource exploitation. Although rights of nature approaches may offer a path towards a greener international law, this path should not be followed in a way that reproduces problematic, homogenising aspects of international law, but instead centres human relationality with nature in place. Instead, we argue that there are important lessons to be learnt from transnational attempts to protect and implement rights of nature and legal personhood, especially where models are informed by Indigenous peoples’ relationships with nature
Original languageEnglish
JournalNetherlands Yearbook of International Law
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2023

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