United Nations General Assembly: Harmony with Nature and Biodiversity: Contributions of Ecological Economics and Earth-centred Law

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Delivered by Permanent Representative, H.E. Ms. Carolyn Schwalger

Thank you Mr President. Thank you also to the keynote speakers who contributed to this morning’s interactive dialogue.

To colleagues in the room warm greetings to you all.

Today’s thirteenth International Mother Earth Day is a moment for not just for commemoration, but also for commitment.

As the President said this morning, and we agree with you, we stand at the precipice of a climate crisis where irreversible biodiversity loss could soon become a reality if we do not act.

The UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda report clearly sets out the importance of protecting our planet – issuing us with a stark warning of the threat of an uninhabitable planet. But hope is not yet lost, the international community has a roadmap to mitigate and adapt to the worst effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.

This year’s theme “harmony with nature and biodiversity: contributions of ecological economics and earth centred law”, provides us an opportunity to look at the innovative actions taken across the world, both at the grassroots and government level; to address biodiversity loss and reflect the importance of and earth centred and rights of nature approach.

Rights of Nature is a concept that can help to provide for the world views and cultural perspectives of indigenous peoples. They can be given effect to, for example, by establishing legal guardianship bodies, led by local indigenous peoples, which act on behalf of Nature's rights and interests.

In fact, New Zealand has a unique story to tell on bestowing special rights to our natural environment. Over the past decade we have granted legal personhood to three different natural entities: Te Urewera (a former national park), Mount Egmont/Taranaki, and as you heard from Deputy Chief Judge Fox this morning, the Whanganui River

New Zealand’s story is one of innovation and collaboration. Our experience shows how a country, rich in natural beauty, was able to successfully navigate its own complex colonial past to simultaneously settle a legitimate historical grievance by the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, the Māori. To Māori, land and waterbodies are not property to be owned; rather, they have a deeply spiritual meaning to the people, and are intrinsically linked to their identity and well-being.

This Rights of Nature approach was able to give birth to a new framework for environmental conservation that incorporates Western and indigenous perspectives. In the case of Te Urewera, its interests are represented by a bicultural representative governing body, to act on their behalf. And as you heard this morning, for the Whanganui River, its interests are represented by two guardians – one nominated by the government and one by Māori.

We offer our experience as an example of what can be achieved. Each country and natural feature is unique; it is likely that a range of factors will determine whether granting nature legal personhood will prove an effective environmental management and conservation strategies.

In New Zealand’s experience, we have found that recognising the Rights of Nature can be an effective environmental management and conservation strategy. A strategy which can also elevate partnerships with indigenous peoples, by reinforcing the importance of biodiversity to indigenous peoples, their role as guardians and the place of traditional knowledge in restoring nature.

Thank you Mr President.


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