Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth

Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation

John Vidal reports from La Paz where Bolivians are living with the
effects of climate change every day Link to this video
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2011/apr/10/bolivia-fighting-the-climate-wars>
Bolivia <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/bolivia> is set to pass
the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans.
The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots
social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as
“blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation
<http://www..guardian.co.uk/environment/conservation> and social
measures to reduce pollution and control industry.
The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the
UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will
establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to
life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and
processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and
clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and
the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically
altered.
Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not
be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that
affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant
communities”.
“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said
Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new
relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be
preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”
The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian
legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been
heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual
world view which places the environment and the earth deity known
as the Pachamama <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachamama> at the
centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.
But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its
tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new
rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the
government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and
to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving
communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting
industries.
Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from
the mining <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/mining> of tin,
silver, gold and other raw materials. “Existing laws are not
strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong
Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de
Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped draft the law.
“It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to
regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia’s traditional
indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate
change <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-change>..
“Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of
plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms
part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to
solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our
values,” he said.
Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because
President Evo Morales’s ruling party, the Movement Towards
Socialism, enjoys a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.
However, the government must tread a fine line between increased
regulation of companies and giving way to the powerful social
movements who have pressed for the law. Bolivia earns $500m
(£305m) a year from mining companies which provides nearly one
third of the country’s foreign currency.
In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.
The draft of the new law states: “She is sacred, fertile and the
source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her
womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with
the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings,
and their self-organisation.”
Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed
its constitution to give nature “the right to exist, persist,
maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and
its processes in evolution”. However, the abstract rights have not
led to new laws or stopped oil companies from destroying some of
the most biologically rich areas of the Amazon.

Coping with climate change

Bolivia is struggling to cope with rising temperatures, melting
glaciers and more extreme weather events including more frequent
floods, droughts, frosts and mudslides.
Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in
the capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising
steadily for 60 years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are
now on course to rise a further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years.
This would turn much of Bolivia into a desert.
Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely
within 20 years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap.
Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water
shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.
Evo Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, has
become an outspoken critic in the UN of industrialised countries
which are not prepared to hold temperatures to a 1C rise.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights

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