Harmony with Nature dialogue focuses on sustainable economic models and the rights of Nature

The Third Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature took place at UN Headquarters on Monday 22 April

Photo courtesy of Harmony with Nature website/Marianne Morin

This year’s discussion focused on different economic approaches to further a more ethical basis for the relationship between humanity and the Earth. Several participants stressed that both a new economic model as well as rights for Nature were necessary for sustainable development.

At the beginning of the dialogue, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to it as a “chance to reaffirm our collective responsibility to promote harmony with nature.” He said we must confront the hard truth that our planet is under threat. “Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources – often driven by greed – is eroding our planet’s fragile ecosystems”, said the Secretary-General, pointing to loss of biodiversity, depletion of fish stocks and acidification of oceans.

But he also saw hope, referring to the millions of people around the world who are recognizing this problem as part of a growing movement for sustainable development. ”More and more governments are hearing their calls for action” he said, giving as examples Bolivia, which has adopted a legal framework that specifically protects “Mother Earth”, and Ecuador, whose Constitution recognizes the rights of Nature.

The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, noted that “as we consume our natural resources at an increasingly faster rate than we can replenish them, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the planet’s ability to support our continued existence.”

In the course of the interactive dialogue, Ms. Linda Sheehan, Executive Director at the Earth Law Center, California, Mr. Ian Mason, Principal at the School of Economic Science, London, Dr. Fander Falconi, National Secretary of Development Planning of Ecuador, and Dr. Jon Rosales, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University, New York, discussed a number of approaches to further harmony with Nature.

Mr. Mason stressed that humanity, when it comes to its relation with earth, needs to restrain the abuse of power and the worst excesses by recognizing rights for Nature and enforcing them through laws. “A simple duty of care for the Earth could apply to individuals, corporations and governments alike,” he said.

The importance of rights for Nature and a new economic paradigm were also highlighted by Dr. Falconi. He said that not only humans have rights, but other species as well: “Guaranteeing plants and animals the right of being perpetuated is central”. He noted that the deterioration of the planet’s physical condition is challenging mankind and that a new economics is necessary, one that results in prosperity and development without growth.

Traditional cultures that are already living within Nature’s limits were the focus of the bottom-up option for sustainable development outlined by Dr. Rosales. Many indigenous cultures whose subsistence activities are dictated by the cycles of Nature have existed for a long time and are already sustainable, he noted.

This kind of traditional knowledge and culture should be enabled and supported. “Such an approach offers relief from trying to find a grand solution to sustainable development – it focuses on what’s already working”, he explained.  

Ms. Sheehan said that our current economic paradigm needs to be rejected and the rights of the natural world acknowledged. She stressed that we currently try to “contort the environment, and increasingly ourselves, to fit within our economic model.” But we should instead recognize the economy’s place as servant to humans and the Earth, not the master of both, she said.

For more information:
Third Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature