Just last week the Amazon Rain Forest was granted the same rights as human beings by Colombia’s Supreme Court. The court ordered that the Colombian Government must take urgent action to protect the rainforest from deforestation, preserving it for future generations. The ruling is claimed as a win for future generations, not just in Colombia, but all over the world.
The Amazon is known as a Carbon Sink. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Amazon Rainforest is 6.7km2 (twice the size of India) and therefore the largest rainforest remaining in the world. The Amazon’s rivers account for 15-20% of the world’s total river discharge into the ocean. Crucially, the Amazon’s canopy cover according to WWF “helps to regulate temperature, humidity and carbon conversions from our atmosphere.” The Amazon’s three billion trees use sunlight to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a process called photosynthesis. It is then stored as carbon in the form of wood. Consequently the Amazon has come to be appropriately termed as “the lungs of the earth.” The BBC has reported that “without the Amazon sucking up global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations the worlds ability to lock up carbon will be reduced compounding the effects of climate change.”
As reported by the Bogota Post, deforestation increased 44% between 2015 and 2016, and is threatening to destroy one of the world’s greatest living resources. Therefore, 25 plaintiffs between the ages of 7 and 26 filed a class action against the Colombian Government in January demanding that the Amazon be protected to ensure their right to a healthy environment. The Supreme Court ordered that the Amazon be given the same rights as human beings. It announced that the “Colombian Amazon is recognised as an entity, a subject of rights (those being) the right to legal protection, preservation, maintenance and restoration.” Consequently, national and local governments are required to come up with meaningful action plans to combat deforestation within the next four months.
In it’s ruling, the Supreme Court of Colombia noted that “the Colombian state had not effectively addressed the problem of deforestation in the Amazon.” The Plaintiffs told Reuters that they brought the case because the government’s failure to protect the Amazon jeopardized their futures and violated their rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water. It is the first verdict in Latin America to rule favourably in an action of this kind, a Bogota rights group told Reuters. Researcher Camila Bustos says that the Courts’ decision has resulted in a positive precedent being set for future cases. The Independent UK has also said that it is possible the decision may influence the outcome of the Brazilian Senate’s vote not to scrap an eight year ban on farming sugar cane in the Amazon, a practise that is hugely harmful to the environment. The Bogota Post has said that “all human individuals have to stop thinking exclusively of their own interests in mind. We are all obliged to consider how our actions and daily behaviour impact upon society and nature.” The Court further noted that “it is necessary to take a step forward in jurisprudence, to change the relationship of humankind with nature before it is too late.”
The lawsuit filed by the young people comes amongst a “surge of litigation around the world demanding action, or claiming damages over the impact of climate change.” The Paris Accords were signed by every country in the world except for North Korea. The aim of the agreement is to prevent a global rise in atmospheric temperature. It is one of the only treaties in the world to be signed by almost all countries and represents a global attempt to protect our habitat. Following the signing of the Accords, World Policy announced that there have been 1,200 relevant policies enacted in 164 countries and 253 climate change cases in 25 jurisdictions. Moreover, this does not include the USA, whereby 600 climate change cases are recorded in a separate database. Although the agreement leaves it for each signatory state to decide how they will meet their treaty obligations, many have implemented ambitious targets. France, for example, is expected to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and after 2022 it will not use coal for energy. For Columbia, this is not the first time an environmental body was given the same rights as humans. In 2016 Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the Atrato River also possessed legal rights.
For a country that has for so long been recognised only by its struggles with drug cartels and been defined as a “narco-state,” Colombia’s move towards being one of the worlds most influential climate change advocates is a welcome change. Colombia’s recognition of the importance of the living forest is a historic moment and one that is set to spur other countries around the world to follow suit. The growing body of the Rights of Nature Laws are a testament to how far Colombia has come. In the past, the United States of America has famously claimed to be helping Colombia to establish democracy and the rule of law to become a developed country. Perhaps now Colombia can return the favour in a time when the United States’ democratic processes are in question and it has denounced climate change and withdrawn from the Paris Accords.
Sharing its knowledge and strong legal institutions with Trumpist America would help to ensure a more secure region and globe both now and in the future