Blue Mountains Council awarded for innovative Rights of Nature policy

Praise for 'rights of nature' decision: Mayor Mark Greenhill, Greens candidate Kingsley Liu and sitting Greens Cr Brent Hoare. File picture April 2021.
Praise for 'rights of nature' decision: Mayor Mark Greenhill, Greens candidate Kingsley Liu and sitting Greens Cr Brent Hoare. File picture April 2021.

Blue Mountains Council has been recognised by an internationally renowned Rights of Nature law firm and advocacy group for innovation in Rights of Nature policies.

The Centre for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER) awarded its Local Recognition of Rights Award to Blue Mountains, as well as Northern Ireland's Derry City and Strabane Council and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. The award recognises local governments which adopt laws and policies expanding civil, democratic, and environmental rights at the municipal level.

Nature has rights: The critically endangered Regent Honeyeater. In a first for Australia, in April BMCC recognised the rights of nature. Council has now been awarded for it. Picture: Dave Nobel

Nature has rights: The critically endangered Regent Honeyeater. In a first for Australia, in April BMCC recognised the rights of nature. Council has now been awarded for it. Picture: Dave Nobel

The idea was sparked by sitting Ward 2 Greens councillor Brent Hoare and Greens candidate for Ward 3 Kingley Liu and approved in April this year.

"It's such an honour for our city to receive this recognition for the steps we've taken to recognise the Rights of Nature, and I'd like to acknowledge the pivotal role the Greens' Ward 3 candidate Kingsley Liu has played in bringing this framework to our attention," Cr Hoare said.

"We now shoulder a great responsibility to 'walk the talk' and ensure that the natural world is at the centre of everything council does. For every plan and every project, we must consider how it will impact our local environment."

Mari Margil, CDER's executive director, applauded the local officials who drafted and voted to adopt these resolutions.

"We are proud to ... recognise groundbreaking local governments which are embracing the shift from our current environmental regulatory system to one based on the recognition of the rights of nature."

Dr Michelle Maloney, the national convenor of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance who also recently joined BMCC's Blue Mountains Planetary Health Advisory Committee, said it was an exciting step forward for public policy in Australia.

"For the first time, we're seeing a government entity seriously consider how to shift from the western legal approach of treating nature as just an object or human property, toward recognising nature as a living community, with its own rights to exist, thrive, and regenerate."

Dr Maloney is assisting council in considering how to incorporate the rights of nature into its operations and planning, and how to connect rights of nature approaches most appropriately with First Nations Peoples law and culture in the Blue Mountains.

The international movement to change the legal status of nature from human property to exist in their own right started in 2008, when Ecuador was the first nation to enshrine Rights of Nature in its constitution, then in 2017, New Zealand recognised the legal personhood of a river and national park. India, the Ganges and its main tributary are now considered legal persons and other mountains and glaciers around the world - even a lake in Ohio - are now recognized as having their own legal status.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill, said: "At a time when we are facing increasing risks and uncertainty from multiple natural disasters, including bushfires, floods, pandemics and species extinction, it's crucial that mankind looks at nature in an entirely different way and takes action accordingly."

Council CEO, Dr Rosemary Dillon, said: "As a leader in sustainability over the last 20 years, and as one of only two cities in the world fully located within a UNESCO declared World Heritage Area, BMCC recognises its stewardship responsibility ... integrating Rights of Nature principles into operations aligns with council's commitment to ensuring the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the city."