Can forests be legal entities?

It seems obvious to most of us that specific species, animals, and plants, are protected by special laws and regulations. However, it is getting less natural when we talk about rivers, forests or trees as legal entities. Or maybe rather opposite?

The Guardian has recently published an article “It’s only natural: the push to give rivers, mountains, and forests legal rights” where author Jane Gleeson-White describes a recent tendency in the Western environmental legal system. “This new approach to environmental law was introduced in the US by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, whose first success came in 2006”, writes Gleeson-White. The discussion about legal rights for the environment and its elements, during last ten years, has exceeded debates within environmental philosophy and anthropology and happened to be a focal point of many social movements. The main aim of this “legal revolution” is to change the way nature is described and understood within the Western legal system: from a property to a subject of law. According to initiators of this movement, this should allow for a better protection of the natural world. The most well-known examples of practical application of this approach are Bolivia and Ecuador where the rights of the Mother Earth (Patchamana) were recognised as equal to humans. Also last year, India and New Zealand have given rivers and the ecosystem a legal standing in their own rights.

What do these developments mean for future forests in Europe and around the world? Can we expect that our forests will be granted soon with special rights and legal status? We will find this out in the following years.

For those interested in the topic, I recommend the website of an environmental philosopher Micheal Mader who has extensively published on rights for plants.

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