It’s a diffuse but powerful movement, a quiet revolution that began ten years ago and is now spreading to twenty countries. From Ecuador to Uganda, from India to New Zealand, by constitutional, legislative or judicial means, rivers, mountains, forests are gradually being recognized as legal entities when it is not nature as a whole – the Pachamama (Mother Earth) – that is as a legal entity promoted. Previously limited to regions in which indigenous populations lived, this legal development was extended to a European country for the first time on September 21, 2022 with the vote of the Spanish Senate on rights the Mar Menor, a saltwater lagoon on the Mediterranean coast, near Murcia, Spain. A “important first step” who “shows that it is possible to give legal personality to an ecosystem in Europe”says Maria Teresa Vicente Gimenez, Professor of Law at the University of Murcia.
This international dynamic is reflected in several initiatives in France, often carried out by groups of residents to proclaim and defend the rights of rivers: The river Tavignano in Corsica, the Garonne in New Aquitaine or the river Têt in the Pyrénées-Orientales. These claims are accompanied by rich editorial production examining the legal issues (rights for nature, Collective, Utopia Editions, 2018), the philosophical foundations (be the riverSacha Bourgeois-Gironde, PUF, 2020), political extensions (The river that wanted to write. Hearings of the Parliament of the LoireLes Liens qui liberating, 2021) or even analyze their effectiveness, as in the work carried out by the lawyers of the association Notre affaires à tous (The rights of nature. Towards a new paradigm for protecting lifeLe Pommier, 2022, 468 pages, 24 euros).
However, this change has met with stiff resistance. The idea of giving rights to individuals is hotly debated in legal circles, where environmental advocates are concerned about the risks and abuses involved. Some opponents do not hesitate to compare it to the animal experiments of the Middle Ages, where pigs were sentenced to hanging or weevils to excommunication for attacking crops. The more nuanced it is“a bad answer to a good question”, according to the formula of the lawyer and professor of environmental law Arnaud Gossement.
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