Aruba seen from commercial airliner. Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Carib - Aruba Considers Enshrining the ‘Rights of Nature’ in Its Constitution

If lawmakers and the Kingdom of the Netherlands sign off, the ecologically rich island would become the second country to recognize that nature has inherent legal rights.

Lawmakers have taken the first steps toward amending the constitution of the Caribbean island Aruba to include a recognition that nature possesses inherent legal rights like the right to exist and regenerate.

If the process is successful, Aruba would become the world’s second country to constitutionally recognize the rights of nature. Ecuador enshrined the rights of Mother Earth, known there as Pachamama for the Andean goddess, in its 2008 constitution.

As in Ecuador, the constitutional amendment would in principle elevate the protection that ecosystems receive beyond what is guaranteed by conventional regulatory laws, making the rights of nature both a moral and legal imperative.

The proposed amendment, which has not yet been publicly released, must clear a series of procedural hurdles and then be approved by two-thirds, or at least 14 members, of Aruba’s Parliament. The government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands would then have to sign off on the measure: While Aruba became a country in 1986 and is mostly self-governing, it has been part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 1815.

Aruba’s minister of nature, Ursell Arends, said the push for the amendment sprang from concerns about the state of the country’s ecosystems. The island’s white sand beaches, lush mangroves, turquoise waters, coral reefs and rocky coasts are home to species ranging from sea turtles to blue lizards and unique bird species like the multicolored Aruban parakeet.

Aruba Minister of Nature Ursell Arends. Photo Courtesy of the office of Ursell Arends
Aruba’s Minister of Nature, Ursell Arends, addresses the Aruba Earth Day Forum on April 22, about constitutional recognition of the “rights of nature.” Photo courtesy of the office of Ursell Arends

While the idyllic landscape has made Aruba a sought-after tourist destination, environmental degradation from activities on and well beyond the island threaten those fragile ecosystems.

The impacts of global warming—sea level rise, ocean acidification and, in this case, a decrease in rainfall—are increasingly being felt on the 70-square-mile island, although Aruba’s population of around 110,000 contributes negligibly to global warming.

Encroaching seas are causing coastal erosion, damage to mangrove forests and increases in soil salinity, which affects plant growth. Meanwhile, the rise in ocean temperatures is killing off marine life, including coral reefs and the aquatic species that inhabit them. That loss of biodiversity has implications for Arubans who rely on those ecosystems for income and food.

Reefs also insulate the island from storm surges, which are expected to grow more intense because of climate change and to threaten infrastructure like sewage treatment plants, roads and power plants.

Read more.