By Carine Nadal (Wild Law UK)
On Monday 14th May, Wild Law UK held their Annual General Meeting and Rio+20 event.  

Wild Law UK AGM

A pub may seem a wild place for a formal meeting but the Sir Richard Steele pub was rather apt for Wild Law UK’s AGM.  Over 25 people joined us to formally elect the Steering Group and approve amendments to the Wild Law UK Constitution.  Wild Law UK has been busy over the past year advocating the rights of Nature: organising events such as the UK launch of the new book Exploring Wild Law: Philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence, edited by Peter Burdon (Wakefield Press, 2011), and a Wild Law weekend, setting up a legal drafting group, submitting responses to consultations on law and policy reform, networking with other groups, and amplifying Earth’s voice through social media.

After the formalities we heard about some of the pioneering campaigns in the run up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, Brazil in June, which complement Wild Law UK’s work.

Eradicating Ecocide

Many of you have probably heard of Polly Higgins, a passionate advocate for Earth and a barrister, who is calling for the United Nations to recognise that extensive destruction of ecosystems, such as mining in the Tar Sands, Canada, is a crime of ‘Ecocide’.  Such destructive activity is already recognised as a crime during wartime so why not so during ‘peace time’?  

Louise Kulbicki, the Legal Co-ordinator for Eradicating Ecocide, talked about the buzz of activity from the grassroots to governments.   There are now over 6000 members and an Avaaz public petition to stop Ecocide. 10 countries, for example Kyrgyzstan, already have a national Law of Ecocide! Louise recently hand delivered a letter about Ecocide for the Dalai Lama, and Polly presented the campaign at the recent Rule of Law for Nature conference in Oslo.  

At the Rio+20 Summit the Eradicating Ecocide campaign are calling for a Head of State to take a stand and call for an amendment of the Rome Statute to recognise Ecocide as a 5th crime against peace. 

Today - Wednesday 16th May - Polly is launching her new book – Earth is Our Business – arguing that protecting Earth is the responsibility of us all, and sets out a ‘new set of laws based on the sacredness of all life’.

Planetary Boundaries Initiative

Our Earth is generous with gifts of life and conditions for survival including clean air, water, healthy ecosystems, and food.  But we are plundering our Earth beyond her limits. Scientists have identified nine of these planetary boundaries, three of which have already been exceeded - climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity. Acidification of the oceans is also of particular concern. 

Peter Roderick, a public interest lawyer in the UK, is calling for adoption of a Declaration on Planetary Boundaries which would require recognition, respect and responsibility for living within Earth’s boundaries.  

A newly formed Planetary Boundaries Initiative is calling for a supra-sectoral institution as ‘keeper of the thresholds’ which will take a holistic rather than segmented approach to protecting Earth.  

Will Rio +20 recognise Rights of Mother Earth?

The forthcoming Rio+20 will be a 3-day dialogue with over 500 side events and a Peoples’ Forum. 

Kirsty Schneeberger from Stakeholder Forum guided us through the Rio+20 Summit in June which aims to:

-       review previous commitments to sustainable development – there is a need for  stronger implementation strategy and guidelines for international instruments.

-       explore new and emerging issues - such as food, water and climate security, resilience, and planetary and social boundaries.

-       renew political will on the green economy, and institutional framework for sustainable development – political will for sustainable development has wavered over the years.  However, responsible economics and longer term thinking is emerging through proposals of a Convention on Corporate Social Responsibility and Accountability, and UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.

There is positive news that, as of the 4 May and after two full weeks of negotiations in New York, revised proposals to paragraph 71 of the Rio+20 Outcome Document as it stands recognises the Rights of Mother Earth!  The G-77 and Ecuador’s proposal explicitly recognises Mother Earth as our home, the interdependence between all life, and need to live in harmony with Earth. Bolivia and Ecuador’s proposal goes further to recognise Mother Earth as a living system and her rights to life, to continue her cycles and processes, be free of contamination/pollution, and to be restored.  This echoes the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth developed at an alternative climate change summit in Bolivia in 2010. 

The co-chairs will take all the proposals and amendments on board before producing a streamlined or suggested text, which is very soon to be produced…

Ecocide Sentencing - Participants of the Restorative Justice process

Carine Nadal, Earth Jurisprudence Co-ordinator at the
 Gaia Foundation, and member of Wild Law UK shares reflections on her participation in the mock Ecocide Sentencing.  The original and full version of her blog appears here

On 31st March 2012, in an event organized by the Hamilton Group and the Institute for Democracy & Conflict Resolution (IDCR) at the University of Essex, two mining company directors were sentenced having been found guilty of Ecocide - the extensive destruction of ecosystems - at a mock trial in the UK Supreme Court on 30th September 2011. Ecocide has been proposed by Polly Higgins as the 5th international crime against peace. The directors were found guilty of undermining the peaceful enjoyment of the Earth Community in the Athabasca Tar Sands, Canada.  

Restorative justice process

One of the mining company directors – Mr Bannerman – accepted responsibility and agreed to participate in a restorative justice process prior to his sentencing. Restorative justice is a process which provides an opportunity for the voices of the victims to be heard.  It is highly relevant in an environmental and social context where issues are interconnected and where the focus is collaboration and healing rather than conflict and retribution.

I was invited to participate in this process to amplify the voice of Earth – one of the victims - and was joined by those voicing wider humanity (Jess Philimore), indigenous peoples (Gerald Amos, Chief Councillor from the Haisla Nation in Canada), future generations (Philippa De Boissiere), the birds killed in the Tar Sands (Peter Smith), along with the mining company’s Chief Sustainability Officer (Roger Cowe) and Chairman of the company’s pension fund (Paddy Briggs). Lawrence Kershen, chair of the Restorative Justice Council, facilitated the process. It was an intense and moving experience for all.

In my role as Earth I came to a deeper understanding that:

Earth is Mother of all life

We, whether humans, birds, forests, mountains or soil, are all children of Earth.  Earth gives us life, nurtures and protects us like our human mothers.  When I asked Mr Bannerman whether he had children, he erupted with parental instinct fearing that he would never see his family again if he were sentenced to prison.  If only we widened our circle of compassion to our wider Earth family, as Albert Einstein urged, then we would feel Mother Earth’s deep pain for the loss of her children killed because of the Tar Sands extraction and those yet or never to be born.  How can we put profit over life?  

Earth is a Living Being

This is the understanding of many indigenous peoples, and scientists such as James Lovelock and Stephan Harding.  As Dzomo la Mupo (Voice of Earth), Sacred Site custodians in Venda, South Africa explain: Minerals and metals are the heart of Earth. If we remove them, it is like removing a person’s heart. It will kill the person. It is the same with our Earth, who will die if minerals or metals are removed. Her life force will be drained.The powerful imagery of Earth as a living body helped me understand what Earth must feel when activities such as the Tar Sands extraction grabs and gauges her skin/land leaving huge scars, sucks and pollutes her blood/water supply, and chokes her with filthy air.    As we are all interconnected and interdependent, if we damage one part of Earth’s body we damage the whole of Earth, and ultimately damage ourselves.

Earth speaks to us

If only we, particularly in industrialised countries, took the time to listen and feel what Earth is saying, and stop stifling her voice with our human-centred desires.  Earth is warning us that she is reaching her threshold of tolerance to human destructive behaviour.  Will we continue to disobey Earth’s laws and destroy our Earth family like a cancer OR will we abide by Earth’s laws for the benefit of the whole Earth Community?  As a mother, Earth is forgiving and compassionate but even she has limits. We need to re-learn our eco-literacy of Earth’s cycles, rhythms and boundaries.  Our indigenous elders who have been reading Earth’s laws for centuries can guide us.  Mr Bannerman accepted Earth’s proposal for there to be a Guardian of Earth on the board of his company who would determine whether activities were in the best interest of the wider Earth Community.

We are all Guardians of Earth

We all have the responsibility to amplify Earth’s voice.  For the sake of past, present and future generations, we must respect the rights of the Earth Community to exist, habitat and fulfill our function in the evolutionary process, and live within Earth’s laws.  Elder Thomas Berry, who developed the philosophy of Earth Jurisprudence, explained that the ‘Great Work’ ahead of us is to live in a mutually enhancing relationship and tread softly on Earth. 


Reminding us that ‘Earth is a precious heritage’, Judge Ian Lawrie ruled that, given his genuine participation in restorative justice process, Mr Bannerman's sentence would be deferred for six months.  During this time he has to uphold his commitments, agreed during the restorative justice process, to maintain suspension of mining in the Tar sands, meaningfully involve indigenous peoples in the decision-making process, appoint a guardian of Earth and future generations, and transition to renewable energy.  

A short film of the event is available here Parts 1 and 2.

Carine Nadal