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Rights of Nature Glossary
A comprehensive dictionary of Rights of Nature terms and definitions.
Animal rights:

Moral principles grounded in the belief that animals are not for human use – for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation – and every creature has a right to live free from pain and suffering. Where laws exist for animal rights, they tend to be the basic rights of freedom from confinement, freedom from bodily injury, and shielding animals from cruelty.


A term used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. Officially, the current epoch is called the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age. The notion that we have entered a new epoch and that it should be known as the Anthropocene (derived from the Greek words anthropo , for “man,” and cene for “new,”) has been popular since 2000.


The belief that human beings are the central or most important entity in the Universe. An anthropocentric or human-centered perspective views humankind as separate from Nature and superior to other living and non-living entities (animals, plants, minerals, etc.) and sees nature in terms of ‘resources’ or value for humans use.


A nature-based perspective that calls for a rethinking of the Human-Nature relationship. Unlike anthropocentric belief, biocentrism extends inherent value to all living beings.

Buen Vivir:

(Living well, or living well together) A term originating in Latin America that describes alternatives to development rooted in community, ecology, culture, and a spiritual connection to the land. “Under Buen Vivir, the values inherent in Nature are recognized, and therefore also the duty to maintain its integrity at both the local and the global level.” (Eduardo Gudynas)

Common and Civil Law:

Common Law is a legal system developed through decisions of courts and similar tribunals, rather than through legislative statutes. A decision in a current case depends on decisions made in previous cases, called precedents, which are binding on future decisions. In contrast, Civil Law legal systems derive laws exclusively from legislative statutes and legal codes, rather than from previous court decisions. Common law countries include, among others, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan, USA and the UK.

Customary Law:

The body of a priori or previously existing law and custom. Customary Law is derived from the laws of Nature, containing both rights and duties, and is embedded in customary governance systems – the ancestral governance systems of Indigenous Peoples passed down through successive generations. These systems are firmly rooted in Nature and ancestral territories and are exercised through traditions, customs, beliefs, social, cultural, spiritual, and livelihood practices, stories and laws of origin, rituals, values, cosmology.

Duty of Care:

The responsibility that humans have, to care for and maintain the integrity and
well-being of the whole Earth Community and future generations.

Earth Community:

A term that acknowledges how the planet Earth is a single community bound together with interdependent relationships. Relationships within the Earth Community are reciprocal – a cycle of giving and receiving. No living being nourishes itself. Each component of the Earth community is immediately or mediately dependent on every other member of the community for nourishment and survival. “Every component of the Earth community has three rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community.” (Thomas Berry)

Earth Jurisprudence:

A term inspired by cultural historian Thomas Berry, who promoted the need for an Earth-centred jurisprudence, recognizing that human laws and governance systems were traditionally derived from and complied with Earth’s laws, which govern all of life. Earth Jurisprudence is a philosophy and practice which recognizes Earth as the primary source of law. All species, including humans, are inextricably subject to these laws and processes.


The loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystems, such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished. “Any person is guilty of ecocide who causes severe damage to (a) any part or system of the global commons, or (b) an Earth’s ecological system.” (End Ecocide on Earth)


A term proposed by Thomas Berry for the type of future we must imagine and strive for, when humanity’s role is harmonious with all of Nature and constructive in giving the Earth a chance for renewal, an Ecozoic Era.

Financialization of Nature:

A term that refers to initiatives that make selected ecological functions, such as water filtration, carbon storage, or erosion protection, visible to capital markets and policy makers. Earth’s natural processes are translated into the human language of financial and speculative markets and are quantified. This commodification and economic valuation of Nature drives emissions trading, water pollution trading, biodiversity and carbon credits, REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation), allowing business-as-usual for extractivist and damaging activities.

Harmony with Nature:

A term that reflects the need to re-establish a non-anthropocentric relationship with Nature. In 2009 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the first of a series of resolutions on Harmony with Nature. Living in Harmony with Nature has since been adopted in international fora, from the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG Goal 12 Target 12.8) to the 2050 vision of the Convention for Biological Diversity – though the discourse still tends to be anthropocentric.

Human Rights:

The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. From the Magna Carta to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), they seek to ensure people can live freely and that they are able to flourish, reach their potential and participate in society. They ensure that people are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. You have human rights simply because you are human and they cannot be taken away.


Something that cannot be taken away, that is not transferable, and cannot be bought, sold, or transferred from one person to another such as rivers, public highways, and certain rights. For example, we have human rights simply because we are human. Likewise, all beings in Nature have inalienable rights simply for being members of the Earth Community.

Indigenous Peoples:

Also known as First Peoples, Aboriginals, or traditional communities. Aside from distinct social, cultural, linguistic, economic, political, and historical characteristics, Indigenous Peoples retain a strong link to territories, their cosmovision, and a reverence for Mother Earth. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace, and security as distinct peoples.

Indigenous Rights:

The basic rights to live in freedom, peace, and security. These rights acknowledge that social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.

Mother Earth:

The view of Earth as a nurturer, as the “Mother of Life”, and the mother of all living things, has been long present in human societies, in symbols, drawings, and oral histories. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day. Member States acknowledged that the Earth and its [her] ecosystems are our common home, and expressed their conviction that it is necessary to promote Harmony with Nature.


Everything in the natural, physical, and material world or universe (plants, animals, mountains, oceans, stars, etc.) that is not made by people. Indigenous Peoples view both themselves and Nature as part of an extended family with shared ancestry and origins. There is a distinction between the recognition of Nature and the anthropocentric conceptualization views nature in economic terms and as a service provider.

Nature-based solutions:

Broadly defined as addressing societal challenges through nature and ecological functions. As with ‘ecosystem services’, the concept affirms anthropocentric and usuary approaches to animals, plants, fungi, water, and the non-human world.

Original instructions:

A term for the ancestral teachings received by many of America’s Indigenous peoples, which include living in a way of harmony, balance, and wherever possible, peace with all creation including other people.

Laws of Origin:

The principles, values, and norms that underpin an Indigenous community’s customary governance system. They are derived from the laws that govern life on Earth and are passed down from one generation to the next. Laws of origin are usually embodied in a “story of origin”, the mythic, ancestral story of how a people and its culture came to be in this world, on the Earth – not the same as the history of the people which refers to chronological events.

Legal entity:

Described as “A lawful or legally standing association, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, trust, or individual. Has legal capacity to (1) enter into agreements or contracts, (2) assume obligations, (3) incur and pay debts, (4) sue and be sued in its own right, and (5) be accountable for illegal activities.” (Black Law’s Dictionary)

Legal personhood/personality:

An entity given the legal rights and duties of a juristic person.


The word given to ‘Mother Earth’ by Andean cultures, since pacha is a word in both Quechua and Aymara that means earth, cosmos, universe, time. Pachamama or Mother Earth, is the provider of everything: life, food, animals, water, atmospheric and geological phenomena, fertility, etc.


The inherent quality of all healthy living systems to grow, evolve, and adapt to change and disturbance without losing their coherence.


A moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.

Rights of Nature:

Recognition that the Earth and all her ecosystems are living being with inalienable rights: to exist, to live free of cruel treatment, to maintain vital processes necessary for the harmonious balance that supports all life.

Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME):

One of the outcomes of the Cochabamba World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, in 2010. GARN is active in promoting the adoption of the Universal Declaration by the UN, governments, and civil society, which calls for collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth.

Wild Law:

A term coined by Cormac Cullinan, and the title of his book on the need for law to ensure the functioning of the whole Earth community over the interests of any species (including humans).