Researching the rights of nature in Ecuador

Doctoral candidate Clara Belting about her experience at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.

Forschung & Fakultät |

Since May 2017, Bucerius Law School has been supporting doctoral students in financing three-month study abroad programs. Clara Belting was one of the 14 candidates who have so far received a scholarship. She spent her research stay at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador.


Exploring the Rights of Nature

“For almost three weeks now I have been in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, also called the city of eternal Spring. It is located at an altitude of about 3000 meters in a basin of the Andes and is surrounded by magnificent nature. In the beginning I had to get used to the thinner air, but after a few days I became acclimated to it."

Research focus

"I am here because I want to continue my research for my doctoral thesis at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. I will examine nature as a legal entity and the necessity of a paradigm shift in German environmental law on the basis of recent developments in Ecuador and New Zealand."

"I am especially looking forward to meeting the constitutional judge, Professor Ramiro Ávila Santamaría, an expert in the field of nature rights. Back in Germany I was already enthusiastic about his scientific publications. Ecuador was the first country to grant nature its own set of rights. Many other countries have followed this example, and rivers like the Rio Atrato have become legal entities in Colombia. This exchange with Ramiro Ávila Santamaría will help me to structure and prepare my doctoral thesis."

First insights

"At first, the principle of assigning rights to nature seemed a little strange to me. However, after some research, I thought: Why not? I wanted to know why this concept was included in Ecuador's constitution. What concrete rights could nature be guaranteed? How could they be enforced? What would the obligations be for the state? How could the land be used and still abide by these laws? During my research, access to a well-stocked library will be a great help, as well as the close contact with the people of Ecuador. They help me, both directly and indirectly, to develop a deeper understanding for this issue since they know a lot about 'Buen Vivir - The good life'.

Understanding "Buen vivir - The good life"

"This indigenous lifestyle philosophy strives for communal harmony with oneself, human beings and nature. To assign rights to nature is an extension of this philosophy. In Ecuador, it is all about protecting nature in its entirety - as a complete ecosystem. The idea is that everyone has a right to a good life if he/she respects nature's rights at the same time. Everyone can realize their personal goals for both material and spiritual satisfaction - but not at the cost of the environment and surrounding nature."

"I ask restaurant owners, sellers at the weekly market, activists from a group of utopians and even my flatmates in Quito: What is 'Buen Vivir'? They all have something to say about it. One underlying thought is that there is no separation between humans and nature, humans are simply part of nature. The life philosophy of indigenous Andean people is not always easy for me to understand. Here I have the opportunity to dive deeper into the origins of this philosophy, and at the same time, separate vision from reality. "

"In Germany, I felt that I did not understand the full implications of the rights of nature. Here, I have the chance to get near to the life philosophy of the indigenous population - and at the same time, I can observe the limits and contradictions to this concept: entire areas in Ecuador have been completely destroyed by massive oil production. The issue is very complex, but I am sure that the best place for me to find my answers is here.”