The “Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well,” promulgated by President Evo Morales on October 15, establishes eleven rights of Mother Earth, including the right to life, biodiversity, pure water, clean air, and freedom from genetic modification and contamination.
The concept of nature as a legal subject—a protagonist with its own interests and rights—is a novel approach in the field of environmental law, offering a potentially revolutionary tool for groups engaged in environmental conflicts. Still, given Bolivia’s structural dependence on extractive industry—with minerals and natural gas constituting 70% of its exports—and the Morales government’s continued reliance on these sectors to generate state revenues for poverty reduction and industrialization, whether the new law will be useful in challenging government-supported development projects remains an open question.
The new Mother Earth law, elaborating on a declaratory “short law” adopted by the Bolivian congress in December 2010, has been a high priority for Bolivia’s indigenous and peasant movements, and results from a commitment made by Morales at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change held in Cochabamba earlier that year. Key provisions include an extension of Bolivia’s agrarian reform program (with women, indigenous peoples, afro-bolivians, and migrant settlers having preference for redistributed lands), establishment of a Mother Earth “Ombudsman” and a Climate Justice Fund, a ban on genetically-modified seeds and crops, and a requirement that all infrastructure and development projects respect the natural environment and provide remediation for any incidental damages.
Earth First? Bolivia’s Mother Earth Law Meets the Neo-Extractivist Economy