Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed enshrining the Rights of Mother Earth in international law to the United Nations General Assembly on April 23.
The proposal follows the Law on the Rights of Mother Earth that was enacted in Bolivia in January.
The “short” law enacted is a set of principles. A more detailed version is expected later this year.
The law commits the government to steadily integrate renewable energy sources in order to achieve national energy independence.
Under the law, ecosystems have the right to not be damaged irreparably. The government has created the Ministry of Mother Earth to safeguard ecosystems and repair those that have been damaged.
Mother Earth also has the right to clean air and water, and to be free of all toxic and radioactive pollution, as well as contamination with genetically-engineered substances.
The law is specifically addressed at recent efforts in international law to extend the so-called free market to water and the atmosphere in the form of pollution credits and privatisation schemes. The law states that life-systems cannot be made private property.
This is an unsurprising commitment on the part of the Morales government. Morales rode the wave of the Water Wars in 1999 and 2000 to the become Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005.
The Water Wars were triggered by an International Monetary Fund-sponsored proposal to privatise water in Cochabamba and charge people a quarter of the average salary for access. The original proposal gave multinationals ownership of all rainwater, making its collection subject to fees.
Perhaps the most controversial principle in the new law is the right of ecosystems to not be destroyed for “mega-infrastructure projects”.
In a country in which the government earned nearly US$2 billion a year in royalties from fossil fuel extraction from 2006–2010, according to the May 1 Los Tiempos, the real meaning of this provision is unclear.
In part, it is a rebuke to US development proposals in Bolivia. The US ambassador was expelled from the country in 2008 after conspiring in the protests led by the elite in the eastern provinces of Bolivia, which are rich in natural gas. US Agency for International Development has been expelled from a number of provinces in Bolivia.
The real implications of the law are still unclear. Its roots lie right on the divide between scientific-rationalist approaches to “natural resources” and those oriented towards “deep ecology”.
These remain open questions among socialists, eco-efficiency environmentalists and spiritually-oriented ecologists.