Making the case for the ‘Rights of Nature’ in Minas Gerais, Brazil


Previous work established the University of Sussex not-for-profit start-up 'Ecoforensic' enabling Ecuadorian communities to collect ‘ecological forensic’ data to effectively protect their ecosystems under constitutional ‘Rights of Nature’ legislation. In this project we scale to establish a new knowledge-exchange network for Minas Gerais State, Brazil, supporting six communities to explore the establishment of ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) legislation at municipal level and build their capacity to legally protect their ecosystems against extractivism by applying the paraecologist model.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
    SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
    SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
    SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 14 – Life Below Water
    SDG 15  Life on Land
    SDG 16 – Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

Emerging legal frameworks, such as Ecuador’s constitutional 'Rights of Nature' and the ‘EU Regulation on Deforestation-Free Products’ from December 2022, protecting ecosystems are increasingly important in addressing biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, although implementation remains a challenge. In 2022, SSRP/HEIF-funding established 'Ecoforensic' not-for-profit, that successfully sourced external funding to empower Ecuadorian community-level ‘paraecologists’ in collecting ‘ecological forensic’ data to protect ecosystems under Rights of Nature (RoN) legislation.

This project expands the University of Sussex/Ecoforensic knowledge-exchange network to Brazil that hosts 20% of global biodiversity, yet is suffering serious socio-environmental impacts from mining activity, predicted to increase due to mineral demand for transition to low-carbon economies. Based in Minas Gerais State, responsible for 40.11% of Brazilian mineral production and home to the tragic 2019 Brumadinho mining dam disaster killing 272 people, the team aims to establish a new knowledge-exchange network supporting communities to institute RoN legislation and build their capacity to legally protect their ecosystems through the paraecologist approach.

The project focuses on the SDGs for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (SDG 16), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12), Climate Action (SDG 13), Life below Water (SDG 14), Life on Land (SDG 15), and especially their interactions. Centre stage is the conflict between SDGs above and increased ‘critical’ mineral demand associated with the global transition to low-carbon infrastructure (SDG 7;11) that risks ignoring impacts to ‘critical ecosystems’ and generating social conflict in the global South. More directly the project positively impacts multiple SDGs by protecting culture, biodiversity, and ecosystem services (SDGs 6;10) whilst also addressing environmental justice issues faced by marginalised communities. Building capacity of local communities to effectively establish and implement legal action using Rights of Nature in all six communities (SDGs 10;16) would strengthen relations and collaborations for collective action to mainstream state-wide RoN legislation. Establishing an effective legal and implementation framework to address impacts to ecosystems and social conflicts associated with extractivism (SDGs 12;13;14;15) is urgently required and underpins national and international replication as part of the emerging RoN movement (SDG 17).

Timeline and funding


March 2023-July 2023


SSRP funding (£19,980) 


Addressing the SSRP theme ‘Ecosystems, Rights and Justice’ the project team explores the effectiveness of RoN legislation in protecting natural ecosystems and addressing socio-environmental conflict associated with extractivism. In order to empower communities to conserve the megadiverse MG, protect Brazilian ecosystems and promote environmental justice, the team will build community-level capacity, amongst other things, by:

  • Identifying local paraecologist training needs
  • Organising training in community campaigning, social mobilisation and legal action
  • Coordinating six community mobilisation visits between April and May with the community activist groups of Serra do Curral, Serra da Gandarela, Mário Campos, Barão de Cocais, Serro and Vale das Cancelas
  • Hosting a collaborative pre-Forum RoN event in Belo Horizonte in June with all partners and communities on ‘Co-creating pathways for ecosystem protection though existing and emerging legal frameworks’ - in preparation for the second Brazilian 'Rights of Nature' Conference in Salvador, Brazil (October 2023)

Expected outcomes and impacts

The project team aims to build a transdisciplinary action-research network in Brazil exploring the implementation of Rights of Nature legal policy frameworks. Focussed on addressing socio-environmental conflicts associated with extractivism in Minas Gerais the six community site-assessments [Serra do Curral, Serra da Gandarela, Mário Campos, Barão de Cocais, Serro and Vale das Cancelas] alongside a transdisciplinary workshop with all partners will identify community challenges and perspectives, build community capacity to establish local RoN legislation and guide capacity-building needs for local paraecologists in collection of ‘ecological forensic data’.

Culturally, the project supports urban, rural, quilombo and indigenous communities who are stewards of biodiverse-rich ecosystems on which their livelihoods, cultural and spiritual practices depend. The project team aims to assist and empower marginalised communities in Brazil in their fight to protect cultural, biodiversity and ecosystem services whilst addressing environmental justice issues through capacity-building, training opportunities and other collaborative activities, such as:

  • providing training in community campaigning, social mobilisation and legal action - depending on local paraecologist needs 
  • hosting a collaborative workshop on 'Co-creating community-specific pathways' to strategise and identify mechanisms for the establishment of Rights of Nature legislation
  • preparing a paper and conference presentation with all partners on ‘Community, quilombo and indigenous perspectives on pathways to addressing extractivism through Rights of Nature’

Economic benefits of effective Rights of Nature legislation are increasingly associated with protected ecosystem services since the popularity of the ‘#TiraoPédaMinhaSerra’ (‘get your foot off my mountain range’) campaign for restoring the Serra do Curral which highlighted the value placed on protecting local biodiversity by the citizens of Belo Horizonte. The second phase of the project (from August 2023 onwards) aims to create employment opportunities within marginalised communities as paraecologists (>2/community), potentially via the Nossas Cidades crowdfunding project. In the pathways research/reports the team and its partners identifies funding streams at government level to support effective implementation of RoN legislation within municipalities of Minas Gerais which will be presented at the second Brazilian 'Rights of Nature' Conference in Salvador, Brazil (October 2023).

Project partners, MAPAS, recently incorporated the first Rights of Nature legislation at municipality level in Serro, the first municipality in Minas Gerais state with RoN within its legislature. It provides the opportunity to address local impacts and conflicts associated with two large-scale iron-ore mines. The incorporation of RoN legislation and the capacity of local communities to effectively lead legal action in all six communities, builds a model RoN framework to address impacts to ecosystems and social conflicts associated with extractivism for regional and national replication as part of the emerging RoN movement.

Related work

This proposal builds on the SSRP-funded project Paraecologists for the ‘Rights of Nature’: addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The training provided and ecological data gathered during this project and through the PI's overall involvement and activism within this area helped to underpin the recent decision to suspend large-scale mining projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon (Los Cedros and Llurimagua) which has since received considerable coverage:

The team

Where we worked

Minas Gerais State, Brazil.