Sussex conservation expert hails landmark 'rights of nature' legal ruling, which prohibits mining in cloud forest
By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 2 December 2021
In a landmark court case that sets a global legal precedent, Ecuador has become the first nation to use the ‘Rights of Nature’ to protect forests from mining activity.
In a precedent-setting move, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador has ruled in favour of the threatened Los Cedros Protected Forest, one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, against large-scale copper and gold mining setting a legal precedent with enormous impact on biological conservation. Ruling that the constitutional rights of nature were violated by the issuance of mining permits which would harm the forest’s biodiversity, the Court have ordered that the governmental authorizations granted to mining corporations in Los Cedros are revoked.
Los Cedros, in north-western Ecuador, is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, with more than 6,800 hectares (nearly 17,000 acres) of primary cloud forest. It protects over 200 species with high extinction risk, five of which are regarded as critically endangered by the Ecuadorian government.
In recent years, the Ecuadorean government have promoted large-scale metal mining without respecting the national network of Protected Forests or Indigenous Territories.
The legal case represented the first test case for the rewriting of Ecuador’s Constitution in 2007-2008 in which it became the first nation to include the Rights of Nature.
The ruling declares violation of the rights of nature; violation of rights to clean water and environment for communities near Los Cedros; violation of constitutional rights to consultation to environmental consultation and lack of adequate environmental and water permissions pertaining to the Rio Magdalena concessions.
Ecuadorian and international scientists, including Dr Mika Peck from the University of Sussex who first investigated the biological importance of the reserve in 1995, alongside 150 advocates took on the case of mining concessions in Los Cedros.
Dr Peck, Senior Lecturer in Biology at the University of Sussex, said: “At the local scale this ruling is a powerful precedent that will trigger similar actions towards the protection of endangered ecosystems across Ecuador to protect over six million acres similarly threatened by the ongoing expansion of mining and extractive activity - creating possibility of real and effective citizen action towards environmental enforcement.
“At the regional level, expansion and recognition of the Rights of Nature throughout Latin America could also be a tool of social justice, as it legitimizes the ongoing efforts of citizens and indigenous groups to defend Nature as a subject of the law.
“Globally, this landmark ruling in favour of the Rights of Nature sets a shining example that could be followed by other countries or intergovernmental organizations – proving that there are other ways to deal with global challenges to climate and biodiversity.
“It is important for the world to reflect on the limits of Nature and to seriously question the effectiveness of current conservation policies and actions. Policy frameworks that place humans in context as a part of Nature, integrated into a system that balances intrinsic rights between legitimate subjects of the Law, rather than placing humans as above, or apart from, Nature, will be a necessary part of addressing the serious environmental issues that our planet is facing. This ruling is as important to nature as Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man were to our own species.”
In 2005, Dr Peck started ‘parabiologist training’ at Los Cedros as part of DEFRA’s Darwin Initiative which saw locals trained as primate and habitat ecologists in an effort to protect the critically endangered Brown-Headed Spider Monkey. In the summer of 2021, Dr Peck provided supplementary evidence in the court case, to describe the importance of the reserve for critically endangered species.
In a press release, the Constitutional Court said ‘in this judgement, the Court verified, through scientific information, the biodiversity of the Los Cedros protective forest and said that said ecosystem, according to the Constitution, owns the rights to the existence of animal and plant species, as well as to maintain its cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary process.’
The court also declared that the application of the constitutional rights of nature is not limited to protected areas such as Los Cedros, but applies in the entire territory of the country.