The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 7: On the theory and practice of the rights of nature
The human right to a healthy environment is now present in more than 100 national constitutions, and some of these constitutions contain strong mechanisms to assure its enforcement. For example, the Constitution of Bolivia 2009, states in Article 33 that human beings ‘have a right to a healthy, protected, and balanced environment’, and in Article 34, it recognises standing to ‘any person, acting in their own name or representing a collectivity’, to ‘exercise the legal actions in defence’ of this right. There is no question that the constitutional recognition of the right to a healthy environment is an important development that contrasts with the approach that prevailed for most of the 20th century, according to which nature was, above all, a collection of resources to be used, and the constitutional protection of the environment was only possible indirectly, that is, through the protection of another right (such as the right to property). As is well known, in 2008 Ecuador moved beyond the idea of using the human rights framework as the main constitutional tool for the protection of the environment, becoming the first country to formally attribute rights to nature itself. The specific legal form the rights of nature take in the Constitution of Ecuador, and the mechanisms available for their protection, have not yet been fully canvassed.
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