How did Ecuador, a country that relies heavily on exporting natural resources such as oil, introduce the "rights of nature" into its constitution?
In 2008, the Republic of Ecuador became the first country to make nature itself a subject of legal rights. I conducted fieldwork in Ecuador to study how this new category of rights became incorporated into the country’s constitution. I used transcripts of legislative debates at the Ecuadorian National Legislative Assembly archive, semi-structured interviews, my experiences as a volunteer at an environmental legal organization, and secondary historical sources to understand how mobilization by different groups during the constitutional assembly process resulted in this particular legal outcome.
My analysis shows that while proponents of nature’s rights effectively took advantage of the political openings provided during the constitutional assembly process, the success of their efforts was contingent on two prior historical developments: first,
the work of environmentalist social movements that elevated the environmental agenda at the national level during previous decades, and second, the power of indigenous organizations and their call to recognize Ecuador as a "plurinational" polity, a form of multiculturalism which, along with demanding respect for indigenous territories and ways of life, incorporates politicized versions of indigenous beliefs about the environment.
The study traces how various advocates and skeptics of the rights of nature came to support the incorporation of this idea at the constitutional level, with mobilization eventually leading to legal innovation and institutional change in the realm of environmental protection despite the country's commitment to extractive-led development.
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