The Ocean must be considered a “legal and living entity” with rights similar to humans to address climate change, scientists propose

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The Ocean must be considered a “legal and living entity” with rights similar to humans to address climate change, scientists propose
Credits: M. Arumugam/BCCLBCCL
Did you know that the Ocean contains about 78% of the total animal biomass? That means, apart from plants and trees, if we measure the total weight of every animal on Earth, almost eight parts of that would be found underwater. This makes sense since 70% of the Earth's surface is water; therefore, most of its inhabitants must be marine.
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What unfortunately follows is that ocean deterioration has the potential to harm 78% of all animal matter on Earth. And we know these changes are in motion — the Ocean is warming and becoming more acidic due to Earth's CO2 level fluctuations. This does not bode well for our aquatic inhabitants, many of whom are extremely sensitive to such oceanic distortions. Yet, we take the oceans for granted and treat them as both tireless guardians and bottomless garbage pits. We expect them to accommodate every whim of human affliction and to no end.

Is there a way to address this exploitation?

The Earth Law


The problem spans much beyond a few distressed turtles that manage to catch our eyeballs once in a while. To address the far-reaching impacts of human activities on the Ocean, a group of concerned scientists have called for the Ocean to be considered its living entity, deserving of many rights and respects shared by humans.

"International law needs to evolve to reflect the Ocean's inherent rights to exist, flourish, and regenerate. Ocean health is human health," states the commentary from these reputed scientists, which highlights the multitude of oceanic crises that humanity has scabbed over time, including overfishing, climate change, pollution and habitat destruction.

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Their solution — Earth Law.

According to the publication, "Earth law, including Rights of Nature, provides a pathway to centre humanity as a part of Nature and transform our relationship from dominion and separateness towards holism and mutual enhancement."

In simpler words, we must stop looking at the Ocean as something that provides us with a resource and instead as a "living being" with whom we need to coexist. The scientists want us to respect and nurture our relationship with the Ocean, the same way we would for a neighbour.

A legal framework to protect oceans


And no, this does not mean the Ocean will have to start paying taxes! This new outlook explains that when a policy is being drawn related to the Ocean, it is essential to make its needs one of the focal points of discussion. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the Ocean becomes a "living and legal entity with inherent rights and intrinsic value, entitled to representation to guardians."

The challenges they hope to overcome through this new perspective include understanding and beating marine pollution, protecting and restoring ecosystems, sustainable food provisions, and developing sustainable Ocean economies, among others.

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Of course, some of these challenges are harder to crack than others. However, scientists are confident that this is the way forward. After all, current initiatives, such as the 2017 UN General Assembly declaring 2021 to 2030 as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, barely seemed to make any measurable impact towards the fourteenth Sustainable Development Goal — Life Below Water.

After all, what better solution is there than to love thy neighbour?

This commentary was published in PLOS Biology last week and can be accessed here.


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