Is the world ready for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth?

Following the Copenhagen Climate Summit which ended in stalemate last December, the President of Bolivia is seizing the initiative and hosting a People’s World Summit on Climate Change in Cochabamba this April. One of the key documents for discussion will be a Draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. 

Evo Morales speaking at the UN

The political dynamic here is really interesting. For one thing, it’s the first time a self-identified indigenous leader is taking such a commanding role on the world stage. For another, Evo Morales revels in attacking the ‘global capitalist system’ which he says has dominated world affairs in the modern era and which he blames for the global ecological crisis.

This may not be altogether comfortable ground for those who prefer a more ‘business as usual’ approach to conservation issues but at the very least, Morales is raising important questions about the future of our imperiled planet and the issues he raises deserve to be taken seriously.

It is also a further sign that power is shifting from the developed West to new players on the world stage like the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and ecological innovators like Bolivia, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

The draft Universal Declaration has been drafted by Cormac Cullinan, the South Africa based environmental lawyer and proponent of earth jurisprudence and wild law, in advance of the April meeting. In an email received from Cullinan this morning, he sets out the case for a new Earth-oriented legal document:

“The ways that human beings use to regulate our relationship with the rest of the Earth Community is clearly inadequate and climate change is but one of the many symptoms that our governance systems are failing. I believe that building ecologically sustainable societies will require us to shift our perspective from an anthropocentric one (particularly one that focuses on dominating and controlling nature) to an eco-centric perspective. I have tried to draft the Declaration in a manner that will enable a wide range of interest groups to unite behind it, including indigenous peoples, conservationists, environmental activists, animal welfare and animal rights proponents, faith-based organisations, and human rights and social activists,” writes Cullinan. 

“At the very least proposing this Declaration will initiate a wide-ranging debate about the fundamental issues which our societies will need to face up to in order to move away from our current destructive path and will place these ideas firmly on the international agenda. At best, this could be the start of a process which eventually leads to the adoption of a document which has the potential to be as significant as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

To read the draft or submit a comment, individuals are invited to join the online community at

To register for the April conference, visit

By Karl Hansen. Karl worked for the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development before joining the Living Rainforest.

on 'Is the world ready for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth?'

  1. Herve says:

    I am concerned about this idea of moving from an anthropocentric perspective to an eco-centric one. As much a defender of natural ecosystems as I am, a system centered not on human has the potential of harming people, most especially the vulnerable and the poor.

    I think the emphasis should be that, in order to maintain our subsistence as a specie on this planet and build a fairer world, we should :
    1/ protect nature, biodiversity and wild habitats
    2/ get away from consumerism and industrial society
    3/ reinvent a green economy – and sorry to say but some comfort will have to be sacrificed

    this is the subject of pages and pages of discussion. Get started on

    Failure to adapt to the coming storm will be our doom to us all. We must protect the earth, and we must do so in a fair way.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 12:50 pm and is filed under Blog, Forest of Life Blog.

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