Research project on “Rights of Nature”

We are in the midst of a planetary emergency, and the search for tools that enable a shift in humanities course are of existential matter. Our fossil fueled industrial modern societies are planned according to a world view where human beings have seen ourselves as above nature, with a limitless right to dominate, control and exploit it. What happens if we instead acknowledge that the survival of humans is intimately connected to the rights of nature to survive – what development for transition would then be released?

According to the two reports from IPCC (2022) and IPBES (2019), which summarize the climate and biodiversity research, it is necessary to use system innovations on a cultural- and legislative level to protect and restore life supporting ecosystems related to water circulation. Recognizing Rights of Nature (RoN) in legislation is a system innovation that has been tried around the world with unexpectedly good results in dealing with complex environmental issues. However, there is still much work to be done when it comes to how to understand RoN, how to justify it morally, and how to implement RoN locally, if it will have global impact.

The main purpose of the research project is to analyze how RoN may be understood and possibly integrated into Swedish law and what sustainable development it would make possible. We will specifically explore the process of making lake Vättern a legal subject – thereby analyzing what forms of societal transitions are possible if nature was acknowledged to have juridical and accompanied moral rights.

In six Transition Labs we will examine how the situation for Vättern would change if the lake had rights. Can this ensure its survival as a valuable ecosystem? This project focuses on in which way a democratic just transition can be supported by changed environmental culture and laws by expanding the democratic governance to include nature as a subject. It has emphasis on how Rights of Nature has been used and potentially could be used as mechanisms to address a complex set of environmental issues on the local, national as well as international level.

Research team: Martin Hultman, Åsa Nilsson Dahlström, Thomas Laurien, Marie Widengård & Mariam Kanyama Carlsson
Financier: Formas, Chalmers & Adlerbertska stiftelserna