Adopting an Integrated Framework in Protecting Nature’s Rights: Learning from the River Whanganui Case - A Commentary
Keywords:Nature's Rights, River Whanganui Case
Generally, laws meant to protect Nature usually suffer setbacks with respect to either their provisions or their mechanisms of enforcement. For example, by some laws, there is no enforceable right to a clean environment; also, some of the provisions of the laws lack sufficient deterrence; others require a strict proof of causation to ground an action. Consequently, suggested reforms include addressing the constitutional challenge of justiciability, improving sanctions, creating compensation guidelines, and amending laws on proof of causation. The enforcement mechanisms of the laws can benefit from strengthening good governance; building the capacity of the judiciary to be able to effectively adjudicate on conservation-related matters; and generally encouraging hybrid enforcement mechanisms.
The wordings of any legal regime on the conservation of Nature usually reflect how a particular society interacts with Nature. For regimes that are strictly anthropocentric, legal regimes on Nature conservation are hinged on the impact of environmental harmful activities on humans (and not necessarily Nature) rather than ecological restoration, making the regimes reactive rather than proactive. Environmental Impact Assessment Acts which should have the most proactive or precautionary objectives have fallen short in the sense that they prioritise economic development over conservation – a trend that is averse to everything that sustainable development stands for. For instance, an average EIA Act does not contemplate a key precautionary principle – the prevention of unforeseen environmental damage.
It is in the light of the foregoing that a change in ideology is constantly being explored across the globe, to one which is less exploitative of Nature – giving personhood (rights) to Nature.