The future of the Rights of Nature: An interdisciplinary scoping analysis

This research project explores the potential of the rights of nature, considering it from an interdisciplinary perspective, where people from various disciplines share their knowledge to help facilitate a more balanced relationship between humans and nature to address the ecological crisis. Our research highlights that despite its promising role to offer a truly transformative approach to our relationship with the environment, academic research and funding have yet to fully engage with this emerging field of research. Research projects still have largely fragmented and disciplinary approaches despite the tasks that require transcending the disciplines. Although new research projects have begun to explore the anthropological and political aspects of RoN focusing on specific case studies outside of Europe, further transdisciplinary research integrating environmental and social sciences is needed particularly to understand to what extent RoN can be useful and operationalised in the European context.

The report was written as part of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Where Next? Scoping Future Arts and Humanities Led Research.

Representing the Rights of Nature: Learning from the Maori

To combat the vast environmental problems which we face, we need to develop new strategies for protecting the non-human environment. One promising strategy has been to grant ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and mountains, legal personhood. These entities then possess the legal rights to protect their interests from human exploitation. This strategy has been most successful in New Zealand, where since 2017 several ecosystems have been granted legal personhood. Indigenous Mãori groups are typically the driving force behind these changes, Mãori worldviews are reflected in the legal policies, and Mãori tribes stand as guardians of nature’s rights. This ground-breaking model of environmental protection combines Western legal frameworks with indigenous worldviews to decolonise dominant approaches to environmental governance. This project will undertake an interdisciplinary analysis of this model, to discover what drivers might be applicable to a European context, and what attitudes and institutions could support legitimate guardianship of nature’s rights.

BA Small Grant Award Date: 2022-23. Principal Investigator, Neil W. Williams.

Rights of Nature on the Island of Ireland: Scoping a Novel Research Agenda

In June 2021 Derry City and Strabane District Council adopted a pioneering motion on the ‘rights of nature’ (RoN). Within days, a similar motion was adopted by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, followed by Donegal County Council in December 2021. Although local councils lack the legal power to enforce RoN without central governmental approval, the declarations set out pathways for the councils to explore with civil society what RoN might mean for local communities, and how the concept could be expressed across community and corporate plans, development objectives, and other strategic frameworks. Civil society organisations, activists, artists, and academics across the island of Ireland have connected the concept to the island’s history, drawing parallels with traditional folk-lore concepts and highlighting the value of RoN as a means of redressing the environmentally destructive legacies of colonialism, conflict, and the transition from conflict.

Bringing together experts on criminal, reparative and restorative justice responses to environmental harm (Rachel Killean), environmental governance and climate justice (Peter Doran), and human rights, indigenous rights, and RoN (Jérémie Gilbert), this small scoping study aims at developing a novel, collaborative research agenda oriented around the nascent RoN movement on the island of Ireland.