Apr 11

Bolivia is set to pass a pioneering law that grants nature equal rights to humans. The first law of its kind in the world, the Mother Earth Law is expected to usher in radical new conservation and social measures in Bolivia.

Photo of Andean cat habitat

The Bolivian Andes have been heavily degraded by mineral extraction, and are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The Mother Earth Law 

The objective of the Mother Earth Law is to guarantee the coexistence and preservation of life, as well as to establish legal instruments for the prevention of “crimes against Mother Earth”. It also redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings”, with new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry. 

The Mother Earth Law will also establish 11 new rights for nature, including the right to life and to exist; the right to pure water and clean air; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. 

It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Bolivian 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.”

Photo of Puna flamingos feeding in Laguna Colorado, Bolivia

Puna flamingos feeding in Laguna Colorado, Bolivia

Indigenous community influence 

The law has been heavily influenced by Bolivia’s politically resurgent indigenous communities, who place the environment and the Earth deity, known as the ‘Pachamama’, at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities. 

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia’s traditional indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent 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.

Photo of guanaco calling

A widespread Andean species, the guanaco is often farmed by Bolivians for its luxurious fur and valued meat.

Bolivia spearheading fight against climate change 

Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials, particularly in high-altitude Andean regions. The country is also living with the effects of climate change every single day. 

Rising temperatures since the 1970s have been causing the country’s glaciers to melt, while many rural people can no longer grow enough crops to sustain their livelihoods, with many citing global warming as the cause. Furthermore, a rise of 3.5ºC over the next 100 years could turn much of Bolivia into desert.

Internationally, Bolivia is demanding the strongest possible UN agreements to fight global climate change. However, it is at loggerheads with the world’s most developed and richest nations, including the US and UK, who are pushing for more lenient targets.

Photo of female spectacled bear

The spectacled bear is one of the rarer animals found in Bolivia.

Little opposition is expected to the law being passed, as President Evo Morales – Bolivia’s first indigenous president – and his party enjoy a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament. The government is planning to establish a ministry of Mother Earth and to appoint an ombudsman, while new rights will be given to communities to monitor and control polluting industries. 

Read the fully story at the Guardian – ‘Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth’. 

View more species from Bolivia on ARKive.

Find out more about climate change on ARKive’s climate change pages. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author