Legal Subjectivity and Absolute Rights of Nature | Pages 65-87 | PDF

Massimiliano Cicoria, PhD, Common Property Law
University of Naples Federico II, Italy

Keywords: nature as a subject of law, right to water, right to restoration, right to biodiversity

The anthropocentric approach that characterizes all human knowledge has led to a distortion of the relationship with Nature and a view of it as a mere object of law. This approach, presumably originating with Socrates, had solid support in Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and finally, in Catholic patristics, hinging on all disciplines starting from philosophy, psychology, economics, up to law. Dwelling on the latter, examples of legislation that qualify Nature as an object of law are, increasingly over time, the Forest Charter of 1217, the Italian Law No. 1766 of 1927 on civic uses, and furthermore – Art. 812 of the Italian Civil Code, and finally – the cd. Consolidated Environmental Law. This view is, however, changing in some states such as Bolivia, New Zealand, India, Ecuador, Uganda, – the states that through either legislative acts or rulings of supreme courts have begun the process of granting both to Mother Earth in general, and rivers in particular, the status of juridical persons which are endowed with series of very personal rights, which are recognized. This is not the case in Europe, where the relevant legislation continues to consider Nature (or, better, the Environment) as an object of law, therefore as a “thing” from which to draw, albeit within certain limits, utilities of all kinds. By analysing legal instruments potentially useful for a Copernican revolution on this point – in particular, the Kelsenian concept of “legal person”, the meaning of “company” and the European provisions on
Artificial Intelligence – the first conclusion is reached: in a relationship that is not only theoretical, but also practical and utilitarian, it would be opportune to start considering, also through acknowledgments in constitutional sources, the Nature as a subject and no longer an object of rights. In this regard, following the general theories of people’s rights, it could be granted certain absolute rights, of which the right to water, restoration and biodiversity are examined in the current article. Hence, we come to the second conclusion, namely, the contrasts that, in Western law, such an approach could suffer, analysing in particular the problems of neo-naturalism and representation.

“.... all the more so because this land
it was made by nature”
(Lucretius T. C. De rerum natura, 1058)