Paraecologists for the ‘Rights of Nature’: addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies

This project brings together ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) legal practitioners, NGOs, and academics to establish a paraecologist/RoN network to generate the ecological data required to defend protected areas and indigenous territories through RoN legislation.

Overview

Ecuador recently set a global precedent as the first nation to apply ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) laws to protect forests from mining. Consequently, a flood of RoN cases within Ecuador are expected, all requiring ecological data in judicial hearings. This project brings together RoN legal practitioners, NGOs, and academics to establish a paraecologist/RoN network to generate information required to defend protected areas and indigenous territories through ‘Rights of Nature’ legislation.

Based on this research, follow-on project on creating 'a new ecological knowledge exchange organisation empowering communities to protect nature' was financed by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) and co-sponsored by the SSRP.  

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 4 – Quality Education
    SDG 5 – Gender Equality
    SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 15 – Life on Land
    SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
    SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

In December 2021 Ecuador’s Constitutional Court set a global legal precedent, supported by research from the University of Sussex, as the first nation to use ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) to protect forests from mining activity. The Court ruled in favour of the threatened Los Cedros Protected Forest (LCPF), one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, against large-scale copper and gold mining. It set a legal precedent with enormous impact on biological conservation both nationally,and internationally. Scientific evidence, underpinning the decision, included information generated by ‘paraecologists’ trained by the University of Sussex at the Los Cedros Reserve through the PRIMENET project (Dr Peck) that saw locals gain experienceas primate and habitat ecologists to protect the critically endangered Brown-Headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps). The paraecologist approach, first implemented in Los Cedros, has since been effectively applied by the University of Sussex throughout Ecuador (Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve, Tesoro Escondido Reserve) protecting biodiversity hotspots and critically endangered species while addressing gender issues and generating opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

This Court case, the first of its kind, highlighted the urgent need for ecological information in RoN hearings. It also highlighted the challenges of translating ecological data into that required and understood by legal practitioners and the legal process. Given the widespread implications of this ruling, a flood of RoN cases within Ecuador are expected, all requiring ecological data in judicial hearings. This project brings together leading RoN legal practitioners, academics, ecologists and paraecologists in Ecuador to build the first paraecologist training network to generatecological and environmental data to support 'Rights of Nature' cases defending biodiverse-rich ecosystemsprotected areas and indigenous territories.

Timeline and funding

Timeline

March 2022-July 2022

Funding

SSRP funding (£19,777)

Methodology

  • In-country and global engagement with Ecuadorian academia, paraecologist organisations, RoN legislators and legal practitioners to establish new academic-legislative-paraecologist network
  • Workshop in June 2022 to define ecological date requirements for legal practitioners in RoN cases

Expected impacts and outcomes

Social results are evident in empowerment of communities in protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services (SDG 6, SDG 10) whilst also addressing environmental justice issues faced by marginalised communities. Culturally, the project directly supports rural and indigenous communities who are stewards of biodiverse-rich ecosystems on which their livelihoods, cultural and spiritual practices depend. With a focus on providing opportunities for rural and indigenous women it supports gender equality (SDG5) and inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities (SDG4) through the establishment of an officially recognised paraecologist curriculum and certification process – initiating the first industrial standard for paraecologist training.

The Constitutional Court ruling ensures ecosystem services generated by the Los Cedros reserve are protected, contributing to the estimated $447 million annually generated by ecosystems in the region (SDG 6, SDG 13, SDG 15). Although a victory for nature, the Los Cedros Court ruling also requires alternative sustainable livelihoods to those promised by mining.

The project addresses challenges in practical interpretation of Ecuador’s constitutional RoN legislation by identifying key ecological information vital for legislative processes. At the policy level we aim to understand the role of academia and ‘civic science’ in supporting emerging RoN cases and to provide access to justice for all by building effective networks between judiciary, lawyers, non-governmental organisations, indigenous groupsacademics and communities (SDG 16). In terms of direct capacity buildingwe provide paraecologist training to support effective ecological data collection to underpin RoN legislative processes (SDG 4, SDG 5).

The Los Cedros RoN ruling has major implications for protected forest and indigenous lands threatened by extractive industries in this ‘mega-biodiverse’ country. This project builds frameworkand identifies capacity needsto support the legislative process and communities in further RoN cases throughout Ecuador (SDG 10, SDG 16). At the international level, it builds a model framework, through legislation, to address the biodiversity and climate crisiswith potential for global replicationas part of emerging RoN movements (SDG 17).

Further information

The team

Where we worked

Ecuador.


Follow-on project

Ecoforensic: a new ecological knowledge exchange organisation empowering communities to protect nature

This project will establish a new social organisation to integrate and translate ecological data into that required by legal practitioners.

  • Project description

    The impact of mining and logging on forest ecosystems continued unabated throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with ongoing biodiversity loss and carbon release through ecosystem degradation. National lockdowns further reduced capacity of civil society to effectively resist expansion of extractive industries. However, Covid-19 restrictions have not prevented legislative processes from moving ahead and in Dec 2021 Ecuador’s Constitutional Court set a global precedent as the first nation to apply ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) laws to protect the Los Cedros Reserve (one of the most biologically diverse and endemic habitats), from mining. The court decision was supported by important ecological information generated by a global alliance of scientists, including PI Dr Mika Peck, who has carried out research in the region since 2005. 

    Recognising that ecological information has been key in these legislative cases, sustained site-specific collection of ecological evidence to support legislative practitioners is urgently needed. This project will establish a new social organisation with the capacity to integrate and translate ecological data into that required by legal practitioners.

    Expected impacts and outcomes 

    The success of the Los Cedros case alone conserved 4800 hectares of Andean Cloudforest, protecting 242 endangered species (IUCN Red List) and prevented the release of at least 6.72Mt Carbon (140 tonnes C/ha) to the atmosphere. The establishment of a social organisation dedicated to reducing the impacts of climate change through ecosystem conservation, will play a major role in minimising land use change contributions to atmospheric carbon.

    The project aims to set up a new social organisation providing ecological information (Knowledge Exchange) to support the legislative process representing marginalised communities and ecosystems. The precedent set by Ecuador means a flood of RoN cases are expected, all requiring high quality information in judicial hearings. Additionally, there is continuous demand for ecological information to counter Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for damaging extractive projects globally.

    The project builds on work, since 2005 by the University of Sussex (Dr Peck), in establishing and supporting protected areas in global biodiversity hotspots (Tesoro Escondido Ecuador, Santa Lucía Ecuador, Wanang Conservation Area PNG) and exploring the potential of paraecologists in addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies in terrestrial and marine environments (West Papua, Indonesia).

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 15 – Life on Land
    SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
    SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The team

    Principal Investigator

  • Timeline and funding
    Timeline

    March 2022-July 2022

    Funding

    HEIF fund co-sponsored by SSRP (£23,115)

  • Where we worked
    Ecuador.