Advancing Earth Law at the 2016 IUCN Congress

CEJ’s Director attended the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress as an advocate for Earth Law and Policy.  This quadrennial event is attended by global leaders and high-ranking government officials, nonprofit organizations, scientists, academics, artists, business leaders, and indigenous representatives from all over the world. At the opening ceremonies on September 1, 2016, IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng announced that over 9,000 participants from 190+ countries attended the Congress this year--a truly global and diverse gathering.

Traci Deen was selected to serve on the IUCN Junior Research Task Force throughout the Congress and invited to speak at the Emerging Leaders in Environmental Law event hosted by the World Commission on Environmental Law and the William S. Richardson School of Law at University of Hawaii.

What is the IUCN World Conservation Congress?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature is a membership Union, uniquely composed of both government and civil society organizations. It provides public, private, and non-governmental organizations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. Its members derive from 161 countries, 217 state and government agencies, 1066 non-governmental organizations, and approximately 16,000 experts on the state of the world’s natural resources. IUCN meets every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set priorities and agree on the Union’s work programme. IUCN congresses have produced several key international environmental agreements including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the World Heritage Convention, and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

"Humans need to be kind to Mother Earth. Together there is no limit to what we humans can achieve." - Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment

This year’s theme was “Planet at the Crossroads.” As the IUCN explains:

The ecosystems that underpin our economies, well-being and survival are collapsing. Species are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates. Our climate is in crisis. And it’s all happening on our watch. This is the moment to get it right. In 2015, almost 200 nations agreed on ambitious goals for sustainable development and achieving climate neutrality. These agreements represent a historic opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people around the globe and put nature at the heart of our decisions. It’s time to move these agreements into action.


This year marked the first time the Congress was held in the United States. IUCN President Xinsheng stated the this year's Congress was "about moving 2015's historic global agreements into action."

CEJ, along with other members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, advocated at the Congress that the implementation of Resolution 100 into the 2017-2020 Work Programme would encourage the necessary shift from an anthropocentric to an Earth-centered worldview and ethic, particularly in Environmental Law and Policy. This shift would help fulfill goals for sustainable development and achieving climate neutrality.

What is Resolution 100?

Four years ago at the 2014 Congress, IUCN members recognized nature’s rights by passing Resolution 100, “Incorporation of the Rights of Nature as the organizational focal point in IUCN’s decision making.” This Resolution called for nature’s rights to be a “fundamental and absolute key element in all IUCN decisions,” and recommended development of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature. We partnered with the Earth Law Center, and other members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature while at the IUCN Congress, in part to ask that the IUCN continue to incorporate Rights of Nature in IUCN motions and the 2017-2020 Work Programme.

Earth Law at the IUCN Congress

CEJ was advocating for Earth Law and Policy at every opportunity.

This IUCN Congress held several sessions dedicated to examining environmental laws worldwide. One in particular, led by the Earth Law Center and co-sponsored by CEJ, Earth-Centered Law and Regulation for Safeguarding Nature, explored the latest developments in the Rights of Nature and Earth Jurisprudence movement, examined our responsibilities towards nature, and discussed reparations for ecological damage.  Participants, including some of the world’s top environmental legal minds, developed from the Workshop a list of actions and best practices to move Earth-centered law and policy forward.

Another, Environmental Rule of Law: Rights-Based Approaches, Sustainable Development, and the Way Forward, led by the Environmental Law Institute, raised awareness on the status of environmental rule of law, and explored opportunities to advance concrete measures for achieving environmental rule of law. Emphasizing that environmental rule of law prioritizes environmental sustainability by connecting it with fundamental rights and obligations, the session evaluated the World Declaration of the Environmental Rule of Law, which, notably states that “All life has the inherent right to exist.” CEJ was in attendance for this session, and many of the World Commission on Environmental Law sessions, networking and learning from environmental law leaders from around the world.

While at the Congress, CEJ's Director spoke at the Emerging Leaders in Environmental Law event at the William S. Richardson School of Law at University of Hawaii on Earth Law as a path forward. There, she stated, in part:

Our current laws embody a flawed and misguided anthropocentric worldview. Our laws now place humanity apart from and ahead of nature, rather than as an integral part of the greater whole. Earth Jurisprudence principles would balance human interests with the rights of ecosystems to exist, continue, and regenerate, and with the rights of current and future generations to live on a healthy, thriving planet.

This foundational re-imagining of law advocates for a more eco-centric approach, reverence of biodiversity, and living in harmony with nature by expanding legal standing for natural entities, re-envisioning the anthropocentric paradigm, inclusion and application of the precautionary principle —and arguably advancement and broadening of the public trust concept. While the current legal system tends to legitimize environmental devastation in the name of short term economic gains, Earth Jurisprudence advances legal tools that will protect the long-term health, viability, and ecological sustainability of the planet. There is a way to have a thriving global economy, people, and planet—it’s through the implementation of Earth Laws.
— Traci Deen, Esq., CEJ Director


Advancing Earth Law at the IUCN Congress

So, what happened? IUCN adopted Earth Jurisprudence principles into two motions & the 2017-2020 Work Programme!

IUCN recognized Earth Jurisprudence principles, and especially the inherent rights of nature, in two approved motions and in its 2017-20 Work Programme. The two motions, Crimes against the Environment and Humanity's Right to a Healthy Environment, both recall Resolution 100 as a basis for passage, citing to Res. 100's language that incorporation of the Rights of Nature shall be an "organizational focal point in IUCN's decision making," and "calls for consideration of the Rights of Nature as a 'fundamental and absolute key element" in all areas of IUCN intervention and decision making.'"

These motions recognize many Earth Jurisprudence principles, including the dependence of people on a healthy planet, the ecological crisis we face today, the duty of care we have to the natural entities that sustain life on Earth, our responsibility to future generations, and the inherent value and rights of nature.

Additionally, the IUCN Work Programme also implemented Resolution 100. From the IUCN website, the Work Programme serves the following purpose:

  • Valuing and conserving nature -enhances IUCN’s heartland work on biodiversity conservation, emphasizing both tangible and intangible values of nature.
  • Effective and equitable governance of nature’s use -consolidates IUCN’s work on people-nature relations, rights and responsibilities, and the political economy of nature.
  • Deploying nature-based solutions to global challenges -expands IUCN’s work on nature’s contribution to tackling problems of sustainable development, particularly in climate change, food security and social and economic development.

The 2017-20 Work Programme now states, in part : "IUCN ... aims to secure the rights of nature and the vulnerable parts of society through strengthening governance and the rights-based approach to conservation. "

This timely adoption of rights of nature into the IUCN Work Programme came only weeks after the United Nations Harmony with Nature Initiative released its report calling for, in part, the "support for implementation of the IUCN resolution (WCC-2012-Res-100, September 2012) calling for the incorporation of the rights of Nature concepts into law and science."

This is a promising step forward for Earth Jurisprudence, and one we look forward to seeing evolve and grow over time!

Photo taken at booth at the IUCN Congress in Hawaii.

Photo taken at booth at the IUCN Congress in Hawaii.