The latest countries to give legal rights to nature in conservation efforts are New Zealand and India, who both handed down rulings recently.
New Zealand awarded legal personhood to the Whanganui river after the Maori tribe won litigation to protect the river in March of 2017. The ruling now makes it illegal to do harm to the river. The tribe has been fighting for the river to be recognized as their legal ancestor for 140 years, making it the longest litigation battle in New Zealand history.
In India, courts granted legal personhood to Himalayan lakes, forest, waterfalls and to the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, in addition to the same rights granted to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, which are fed by the glaciers, in March. The decision was in part spurred by the fact that the glaciers have been receding at alarming rates and the two rivers have suffered extensive pollution damage from human sources.
The Indian court was quoted by AFP as saying: “The rights of these entities shall be equivalent to the rights of human beings and any injury or harm caused to these bodies shall be treated as injury or harm caused to human beings.”
The Rights of Nature conservation movement has been picking up steam ever since Ecuador gave legal rights to nature in their constitution in 2008, and has since spread to other countries like Bolivia and cities in the United States like Santa Monica, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.