The Rights of Nature as a Pathway for Consensus Building and Relational Planning

The Herbert C. Kelman Seminar on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution series is sponsored by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. The seminar considers ways to strengthen the capacity to prevent, resolve, and transform ethnonational conflicts.

Part Two of a two-part Kelman Seminar series on common-interest building in negotiation was hosted on 23 April 2024, building on the 15 March 2024 session about Conflict or Common Interests: Negotiation Choices with Science Diplomacy.  Complementing science diplomacy as a ‘language of hope’ – in this powerful panel dialogue about Reframing Conflicts Over Natural “Resources”. The Rights of Nature as a Pathway for Consensus Building and Relational Planningfour young women leaders shared their contributions, expertise and progress that is taking place across Colombia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Spain, and Australia where rivers, lakes, and forests have been recognized as living entities or granted legal personhood. The panel dialogue recognized that current institutions and legal systems have been built on the premise that nature is a “resource” at the service of humans that we must control, considering the “tragedy of the commons”.  Conflicts over natural resources are often framed as adversarial, and our legal systems are designed to declare “winners or losers” whenever there is contestation over them.  However, the provision of rights of natural entities themselves across the globe such as forests, glaciers, rivers, lakes and even pollinators can turn this around. This recognition signals a re-evaluation of our relationship with nature, forcing decisionmakers to reimagine environmental management under a new inclusive paradigm, bringing to the fore holistic approaches with decisionmaking, practiced by Indigenous Peoples for millennia.  Albeit not a panacea for all of the by-products of current systems, the Rights of Nature offers hope and a practical legal approach that pushes for solutions that see our relationship with Nature and with each other as relational and not adversarial.