Reflections on Earth Day: Nature's rights
For Earth Day, which is celebrated today globally, we are turning our attention to planet Earth and its rights, and away from revenue-generating activities. At the core of Nature's rights, there is the belief in the intrinsic value of all living beings, a concept which in itself is a prerequisite to bring peace, social justice and ecological sustainability.
In current work in green finance, the green economy and sustainable growth, our benchmarking and impact chains are very much based on quantitative metrics and on traditional financial and economic models. One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is: ‘Yes, I believe in climate action, but how do I create the business case for my CEO?’. This is an important question and one that cannot be avoided, because strengthening the business case has also brought product and process innovation, as well as cost reductions, in providing solutions to deal with the adverse effects of climate change. We have made giant leaps in our understanding of the science of climate change and the financial response that is needed to stay within the targets of the Paris Agreement, but we have equally sizable steps to take in ensuring the implementation of action in a manner that will allow is to remain safely within the planetary boundaries.
For Earth Day, which is celebrated today globally, I would like to turn the attention to planet Earth and its rights, and away from revenue. Our business models are geared towards calculating the costs of assets (including natural capital) on the basis of its sales value. Yet, we can also take a different perspective. The rights of nature and of animals in our planet do not derive their value from their utility to society but can be upheld either in complementary and integration or independently from human rights and human needs. Those are as important pillars of environmental ethics and environmental law. In this context, deep ecology presents an alternative paradigm which has been developed to widen and strengthen the bases of sustainable development and environmental law by grounding those considerations in law and development within the richness and respect of ecological and cultural diversity. The phrase deep ecology was first used by Norwegian philosopher, ecologist and activist Arne Naess in 1972 to describe the connection between the ecological movement, the environment and society.
At the core, there is the belief in the intrinsic value of all living beings, a concept which in itself is a prerequisite to bring peace, social justice and ecological sustainability. Going back to the rights of nature can bridge the gap created by the artificial separation between nature and people. Nature has its own intrinsic value derived from its aesthetic, moral or historical characteristics, which are very specific to communities and time. For example, the meaning of ‘place’ can be found in its symbolism, memory and duty of care that individuals and communities have towards their land and heritage. This language of shared meaning underscores that ‘sustainability has often been a way of life for centuries in rural communities entirely dependent of their surrounding environments for survival and livelihoods'.
Several countries have now granted rights to nature, such as Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, or New Zealand’s recognition of the river Whanganui and Te Urewera area as legal personae. In Ecuador, the new constitution of 2008 underscores the links between human beings and nature, and the role of solidarity and equity in the wider society. These developments in the ecological constitutional state underpin the union between man and nature in a dialectal - and perhaps also animistic - manner, where the rights of nature and human rights are equal, and nature’s interests should be represented in an inclusive, participatory and equitable manner. Pragmatically, this approach can also protect natural resources from over-exploitation, in particular in developing countries.
While representing two different paradigms, finding a way to reconcile the rights of Nature and our approaches in green finance can rebalance societal inequities and put a break to current environmental degradation and the negative effects of climate change.