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The River as a legal person: Evaluating nature rights approaches to environmental protection in Australia


Good, M, The River as a legal person: Evaluating nature rights approaches to environmental protection in Australia, National Environmental Law Review, (1) pp. 34-42. ISSN 1445-405X (2013) [Refereed Article]

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In August 2012, the New Zealand Government signed a landmark preliminary agreement, recognising the ‘legal standing’ and ‘independent voice’ of a major river on NZ’s North Island (Whanganui River). Although the agreement is a significant achievement in itself, it also represents a noteworthy milestone in a broader movement towards the legal recognition of the rights of nature. Christopher Stone, who famously began the international discussion on this topic in 1972 with his book Should Trees Have Standing?, has acknowledged that proposals to confer rights on nature can seem ‘odd or frightening or laughable’. Nevertheless, he maintains that they are ‘neither fanciful nor devoid of operational content’.

The aim of this paper is to evaluate this claim, by exploring the possible benefits and limitations of nature rights approaches to environmental protection. As noted by one commentator two decades ago, ‘[b]efore we get too eager... perhaps we should stop and ask just what it is we are trying to accomplish with a new category of rights’. Ascertaining how nature rights can contribute to existing legal/policy regimes is crucial if these approaches are to fully develop from theory into practice. Criticisms of these approaches, both in terms of their theoretical integrity and practical utility will be considered with a view to answering the question, ‘where to from here?’

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Law and Legal Studies
Research Group:Environmental and resources law
Research Field:Environmental law
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Justice and the law
Objective Field:Justice and the law not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Good, M (Miss Meg Good)
ID Code:88980
Year Published:2013
Deposited By:Law
Deposited On:2014-02-22
Last Modified:2014-07-29
Downloads:3 View Download Statistics

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