Panama Legislates to Give Nature Rights

“In Panama, scientists, lawyers and politicians are working together to dismantle current legal systems and popular mindsets about Nature. And, they’re collaborating to build it back better for the future of their country and the planet.

“It all started with Callie Veelenturf, an American marine conservation biologist and National Geographic explorer. While studying sea turtles in Panama, she witnessed harmful practices such as plastic pollution and fishing bycatch harming the environment and the animals that live there. …

“Over the next two years, Veelenturf, …. developed and proposed the rights of nature to ‘exist, persist and regenerate’ be legally recognised. In the last week of February 2022 …. Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo signed the Rights of Nature into national law.

“Additionally, because western legal systems largely function under a ‘rights-based’ framework, recognising Nature’s inherent rights provides the natural world (and people wanting to protect it) a legal basis with which to advocate for more protective policies and under which to bring causes of action, Bender told EcoWatch.

“So, what exactly does the law do? ….;

  • Acknowledges Nature as a subject of law, with an inherent list of guaranteed rights to be safeguarded – including the rights to exist, persist, and regenerate her life cycles.
  • Requires the state and all persons, whether natural or legal, to respect and protect Nature’s rights.
  • Authorises any legal or natural person (regardless of nationality) to represent the interests of Nature before the courts and authorities of Panama and to hold government and industry accountable for harm done. Allows for Nature to have standing.
  • Creates a normative framework which enhances and complements the legal and judicial means, resources, and arguments available to environmental lawyers and activists.
  • Shifts the national Panamanian mindset regarding a relationship with Nature from one of separateness and superiority to one of interconnection and interdependence. 
  • Establishes a list of Earth-centric principles to be upheld, including ‘in dubio pro natura’, which means that when in doubt, one must act in favour of protecting Nature. In contrast with widely-held anthropocentric frameworks, which place humans centrally, Panama must now consider and respect planetary boundaries and benefit for the whole, not just human society, or industry, or the one percent.
  • Establishes cosmovision and ancestral knowledge of Indigenous peoples must be an integral part of interpreting and applying the Rights of Nature.
  • Furthers Panama’s defences against the climate crisis.

“With this latest passage, Panama joins a number of other countries and governments which recognise the Rights of Nature. Some of these include Bolivia, Ecuador, Uganda, and Chile. …. Rights of Nature laws exist, …. in over 20 countries.

As reproduced in Sustainability Matters