Nereus Program Research Fellow Harriet Harden-Davies (ANCORS/University of Wollongong) is lead author with Research Associate Marjo Vierros (UBC) and others on a new open access study published in Marine Policy, “Rights of Nature: Perspective for Global Ocean Stewardship.” Central to their paper are the ‘Rights of Nature’, a view that nature and/or specific components of it, such as ecosystems, possess “inherent rights.” These rights reflect the interconnectedness of all life on Earth, and recognize the right for ecosystems to “exist, thrive and evolve.” The authors describe four characteristics of the Rights of Nature and tie them into ocean governance, namely the ‘rights’ themselves (e.g., obligations to preserve and protect ocean functions), ‘connectivity’ (e.g., a holistic approach to MPA networks), ‘reciprocity’ (e.g., defined shared benefits from biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)), and ‘representation’ (e.g., establishing a Council of Ocean Custodians that represents ocean interests in BBNJ decision-making). Countries around the world have already legal protections in place for nature, such as Bolivia regarding nature as a public interest and Ecuador legally recognizing nature, or Pachamama, from which “life reproduces and unfolds on itself, has rights, including to integral respect for existence and maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structures, functions and evolutionary processes.” Other countries, such as New Zealand, India, Colombia, Bangladesh, have similar recognized legal rights for their nature and ecosystems. The authors expand on the four characteristics, while also highlighting existing precedents and norms in ocean governance and the challenges that lie ahead for a future BBNJ agreement. You can read the full abstract and access the article below.


The development of a new international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ agreement) is in the final negotiation phase. Legal recognition of rights of nature is emerging worldwide as a fresh imperative to preserve ecological integrity, safeguard human wellbeing, broaden participation in decision-making, and give a voice to nature – but so far exclusively within national jurisdiction. In this paper, we consider how a Rights of Nature perspective might inform the BBNJ agreement. We examine Rights of Nature laws and identify four characteristics relating to: i) rights; ii) connectivity; iii) reciprocity; and iv) representation and implementation. We argue that a Rights of Nature perspective can reinforce existing ocean governance norms, inspire new measures to enhance the effectiveness and equitability of the BBNJ agreement and enable global ocean stewardship in ABNJ.

The above summary was adapted entirely from the reference below

Harden-Davies, H., Humphries, F., Maloney, M., Wright, G., Gjerde, K., & Vierros, M. (2020). Rights of Nature: Perspective for Global Ocean Stewardship. Marine Policy, 0308-597X. link.

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