earth law

#Tbt 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature

Mother Earth Demands Her Rights Through Her People

By Catalina Rodriguez, CEJ 2018 Earth Law and Policy Fellow

In November 2017, the 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature was held in concurrence with the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP23).

The purpose for the two-week Convention was to discuss the advancement of implementation efforts of the Paris Agreement, which was reported to have been met with enthusiasm and positivity from the attendees. Plans to further these efforts have been made and will be explored further during next year’s COP24 in Poland. 

The theme for this year’s tribunal was fundamental changes to the legal systems that are needed to respect Mother Earth as an entity deserving of her own rights, reflected through the eyes of natives of each region who are being affected by deforestation, fracking, mining, and depletion of natural resources. A panel of nine judges from around the world listened while the representatives presented their cases, and later reported their findings and decisions. The Tribunal went on for two days where 53 people from 19 countries brought forth specific violations to the rights of Nature and several cases of abuse to Mother Earth’s ecological resources and the resulting harm to people and biodiversity. The cases brought before the Tribunal included exacerbation to climate change and false energy solutions, violations to indigenous people from the USA, Russia, Scandinavia, and the Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, and French Guyana.

Respect for the rights of Mother Earth and for its current and future inhabitants of the planet, natural resources, and for the significance of maintaining a healthy place to live, were brought up numerously through the cases and exposed the necessity for change through the whole planet.

The tribunal exposed the exploitation of Mother Earth occurring all over the world at such a rate that requires urgent and immediate action. The speakers through the tribunal addressed the protection of the rights of our Mother Earth as a concept that should become part of our everyday. We depend on this planet to live and we depend on what the Earth can provide for us, but more importantly, this planet requires humans to reciprocate in the effort to take care of our resources in order for us to survive. Finite resources are currently being depleted at levels so high that Mother Earth is not able to replenish herself or create alternatives. Therefore, it is time to act.  

One of the specific cases brought in front of the Tribunal was the case of Bolivian natives of the area known as the TIPNIS (Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Secure for its acronym in Spanish) which is a natural jungle where three different tribes of natives reside. The TIPNIS has already suffered a drastic loss of hectares (about 133,691 or about 330,357 acres) due mainly to coca farming, and now the Bolivian government is planning on building a road that would split the territory in half and would only benefit the farmers. During the tribunal, the natives discussed a road the government is attempting to build through the sacred jungle and explained how the construction of this road would affect not only the natives of that specific area but also how it would mean the disruption of tribes all through the country. They denounced their government’s purposeful exploitation of the land and demanded that prior protective laws are upheld. The speaker, Fatima Monasterio, representing Bolivian natives, ended with a quote from their president who said “the rights of mother earth are even more important than the rights of humans,” which showed the priorities of the people. The judges decided that further research and investigation shall be conducted in Bolivia after which a final decision will be issued.


The judges also had conclusions on the other cases, and their individual judgements continue to be released. Final judgements for all other cases can be accessed here:

After the two days of emotional reports from 53 speakers in seven languages, the Tribunal found “serious and systematic violations to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME),” and in some cases human rights violations, with harms so severe as to constitute ecocide.  The main cause of the violations lies in the approach by legal systems and governments who permit and promote climate-damaging activities, such as mining, for the sake of a capitalist system that caters to the industries conducting the damage.

COP24 will continue the discussions among world leaders and NGOs and hopefully will bring forth improvements to the current mandated judgements.

To watch the 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in its entirety, please visit the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’s website.


The Fight for Conservation Funding in Florida is Not Over

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The battle may be over, but the war is still underway. On June 15, 2018, advocates for our Earth community and future generations were awarded a victory in the fight for conservation in the state of Florida. In the consolidated cases of Florida Wildlife Federation, Inc. v. Negron and Florida Defenders of the Environment, Inc. v. Detzner, Judge Charles Dodson found for all Plaintiffs against all Defendants. However, an appeal is still on the horizon.

In 2014, the people of Florida voted overwhelmingly to add Section 28 to Article X of the Florida Constitution. 75% of voters supported funding the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands. Allison DeFoor, former vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida and former environmental advisor to Governor Jeb Bush explained, “Amendment 1 fulfills these principles: It ensures that our state dedicates adequate dollars into the most essential of public goods — protecting our waters and conserving our lands; it ‘lives within our means’ by ensuring that taxes aren’t raised to do so; and it provides an earnest return on investment for generations to come...”

The text of Amendment 1 is as follows (emphasis added)…

SECTION 28. Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.

b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:

1) As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife management areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with management, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands.

2) To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e).

c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as defined by the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.

The cases here challenged the constitutionality of appropriations from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and expenditures by four state agencies including the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), the Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Department of State. Judge Dodson agreed with the argument that the language of the Amendment is plain and unambiguous and that the funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund can only be spent for (1) the acquisition of conservation lands, and (2) the improvement, management, restoration and enhancement of public access and enjoyment of those conservation lands purchased after the effective date of the amendment. He concluded that the phrasing of the Amendment requires land first be acquired with Trust funds before it can be “managed or restored so that public enjoyment of them is enhanced.” This undercuts the Defendants’ argument that the funds were used for management and restoration of conservation lands, despite being in the General Fund. Amendment 1 plainly requires the acquisition of new conservation lands before such expenditures can be justified.

The clear intent was to create a trust fund to purchase new conservation lands and take care of them.
— Judge Charles Dodson

The Plaintiffs in these cases argued that the fund collected were misappropriated and used for unconstitutional purposes. Judge Dodson clarified, “Like all prohibitions on commingling, the purpose of this commingling prohibition is to prevent the money in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund from being used for other purposes. Commingling Land Acquisition Trust Fund money with other funds deprives them of their constitutionally restricted character.”

Because the Defendants did not provide any evidence that the challenged appropriations may have been used for the management of conservation lands purchased with funds appropriated from Article X, Judge Dodson found the appropriations to be unconstitutional and found for the Plaintiffs. He further set out that Agencies expending money from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund must track expenditures to ensure they are being made in compliance with Article X, Section 28 restrictions.

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This is an important moment for the voters of Florida who have finally been heard on this issue. However, the case does not necessarily end here. Lawyers for the legislature have stated they will appeal the decision. This could take the form of a hearing before the District Court of Appeal or be taken directly to the Florida Supreme Court.


In either case, Floridians need to continue voicing their insistence that their legislators adhere to the Constitution of the state of Florida. It is imperative that Floridians contact their representatives and ask that this decision stand and the will of the people be respected.