Our Story

The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor was developed through a collaborative process by people working all over the world. Learn more about our current projects and explore opportunities to get involved

With the onset of climate change and potential mass extinction, and the closing window of opportunity to take meaningful action, a growing number of communities, organizations, and governments around the world are calling for anthropocentric legal and governance systems to be replaced with non-anthropocentric ones. Since the mid-2000s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of laws based on ecological jurisprudence—a legal philosophy that sees Nature not as a set of objects to be exploited, but as a community of subjects (including humans and non-humans) who are connected through interdependent, reciprocal relationships. Recognizing that human well-being is dependent on the well-being of ecosystems and Earth systems that provide the conditions for life, ecological jurisprudence places the well-being of all members of the biotic community (including humans) ahead of human self-interest alone.

Different cultures are adopting different legal expressions of ecological jurisprudence. In some legal systems it is being expressed as rights of nature, with laws recognizing ecosystems as subjects with rights. Other legal systems, particularly those rooted in non-Western cultures, emphasize human responsibilities rather than rights of Nature. Because of the rapid growth in the number of laws expressing ecological jurisprudence worldwide, and their varied legal and cultural expressions, it has become extremely difficult to track this legal development. This presents an obstacle to the activists, lawyers, policymakers, and researchers seeking to advance the legal movement and enact the systems change scientists say is needed to address looming environmental crises.

The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor was created to help overcome this obstacle by providing an interactive online platform that compiles ecological jurisprudence initiatives globally as well as related resources for researchers, policymakers, lawyers, and activists. Our intent is to broadly capture culturally distinct expressions of ecological jurisprudence and create common tools for analyzing them in order to foster global discussion and future ecological jurisprudence expressions, and to create a portal that inspires new research and frameworks. The project is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and implemented in collaboration with the Academic Hub of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (hereafter, the Academic Hub), the United Nations Harmony with Nature Knowledge Network, and many other organizations and individuals.

The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor was produced through the merging of many different efforts, by many different groups and individuals, to track the growth of Earth-centered laws in recent decades. It is a truly collaborative effort rooted in many years of activity by different people working all over the world that converged in 2020 to produce the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor. This is our story.

Creation of the Academic Hub

While the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor does not only address rights of Nature, its origins can be traced to global organizing around the rights of Nature. In the summer of 2010, following the recognition of rights of Nature in Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, the adoption by civil society of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, and several local ordinances in the U.S., an international group of activists, lawyers, and scholars formed the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN). In September 2010, the founding members of GARN created a governance document to help guide collaborative work and create a structure for achieving common goals around the adoption and implementation of Nature’s rights in legal systems around the world.

In 2018, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Ecuador’s pioneering constitution, GARN held an international symposium to exchange information about the global rights of Nature movement. This meeting was followed by a meeting of GARN’s Executive Committee, which refined GARN’s governance model to be organized in a more decentralized way through a set of regional and thematic “hubs”. These hubs were meant to provide partner organizations more agency to work together on projects in particular localities and regions, or in common thematic areas. The intent of these hubs is to deepen localized grassroots engagement and increase networking opportunities among people working on rights of Nature campaigns and cases in different parts of the world. These hubs include regional collaborations, including the African Hub, European Hub, and Latin America Hub, as well as partner collaboration on more thematic lines, such as the Indigenous Council, the Youth Hub, and the Legal Hub.

In 2019, Alessandro Pelizzon (Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Business, Law and Arts at Southern Cross University in Australia) joined the GARN Executive Committee and took on the role of facilitating the formation of an Academic Hub, which was formed in Fall 2020. The initial idea behind the Academic Hub was to harness and synthesize the rapidly growing, multi-disciplinary scholarship on legal structures to respect and enforce the rights of Nature. The Academic Hub’s broader goal is to leverage educational pathways to increase knowledge sharing and raise global awareness on the emergence of an Ecological Jurisprudence, as well as to create a space for critical inquiry and foster novel research. Since its creation, the Academic Hub has served as a platform for facilitating collaboration among independent researchers to develop the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor.

Early Efforts to Track Rights of Nature Initiatives

While the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor does not focus explicitly on rights of Nature, it grew out of earlier efforts to track the rapid growth in rights of Nature laws. During the early 2010s, several organizations working on rights of Nature, including the Earth Law Center and the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, developed early maps and a timeline of rights of Nature initiatives globally. However, with the rapid expansion of legal initiatives and the need for constant updates, GARN determined that the large scope of this tracking endeavor meant that it merited being a stand-alone project with its own funding. GARN chose to instead focus on convening its International Rights of Nature Tribunals and tracking organizations involved with these tribunals, as well as those working on rights of Nature more generally.

The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor also arose out of the UN Harmony with Nature Programme, which was created in 2009 through two United Nations General Assembly resolutions. Through various resolutions, the UN General Assembly acknowledged that the world’s depletion of natural resources and rapid environmental degradation are the result of unsustainable consumption and production patterns, which have led to adverse consequences for both the Earth and the health and overall well-being of humanity. In order to meet the basic needs of a growing population within the limits of the Earth’s finite resources, there is a need to devise a more sustainable model for production, consumption and the economy as a whole. 

Since 2011, the UN Harmony with Nature Programme has held Interactive Dialogues of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature to highlight the need to move away from a human-centered worldview – or “anthropocentrism” – and establish a non-anthropocentric, or Earth-centered, relationship with the planet. To facilitate and guide this process, in 2015 the UN Harmony with Nature Programme created the Harmony with Nature Knowledge Network, an online platform of academics, researchers, and practitioners dedicated to strengthening interdisciplinary collaborations to advance a non-anthropocentric, or Earth-centered worldview also called Earth Jurisprudence. Using the Knowledge Network as a resource, the Harmony with Nature Programme began compiling a repository of laws recognizing rights of Nature and other Earth-centered laws.

Throughout the 2010s, two members of the UN Harmony with Nature Knowledge Network—Craig Kauffman (Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon) and Pamela Martin (Professor of Political Science at Coastal Carolina University)—used their time and resources as academic researchers to document the growth of rights of Nature laws. They consulted regularly with Linda Sheehan (a founding member of GARN working on a rights of Nature timeline) and also worked closely with Maria Mercedes Sanchez, Coordinator of the UN Harmony with Nature Programme, to update its repository of rights of Nature laws.

In 2018, Craig Kauffman and Pam Martin designed a survey project to create a global dataset of rights of Nature organizations in order to understand the extent to which mobilization around rights of Nature was occurring in different countries, as well as to collect information on the attributes of individuals and organizations working on rights of Nature, the types of activities they engage in, and the structure of network ties linking rights of Nature organizations. 

In February 2019, Craig Kauffman received a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to hire a research team to support the survey project, which was implemented throughout 2019. By early 2020, Craig and his research team had produced two main products that served as a foundation for the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor. The first was a dataset of rights of Nature organizations, their attributes, and their network ties to one another. Craig used this information to conduct a network analysis mapping transnational rights of Nature networks. The second was a dataset of legal provisions recognizing rights of Nature. This was the most complete dataset of rights of Nature laws to date because it did not rely on self-reporting (as the UN Harmony with Nature Programme did), but had a dedicated research team with the time and resources to actively research and compile rights of Nature legal provisions.

In July 2020, Craig Kauffman was contacted by Alex Putzer, a doctoral student at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, who requested access to the dataset of rights of Nature legal provisions for a research project he was undertaking. Because the Rockefeller Brothers Fund grant had just ended, Craig no longer had research assistants to help maintain the dataset. Craig shared the dataset with Alex hoping that he could help update the dataset, which he did. Alex asked staff at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to collect and verify information on the many dozens of initiatives occurring in the U.S., and we are deeply grateful to CELDF for the extensive research work their staff did. In June 2022, Alex and several co-authors published their own mapping and analysis of rights of Nature initiatives.

Conceptualizing the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor

During the summer of 2020 Thomas Kruze and Craig Kauffman met to review the results of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund grant that had just ended. At the meeting, Thomas expressed interest in helping fund the creation of a center that could serve as a more permanent institutional structure for tracking rights of Nature initiatives and providing related resources. Thomas and Craig discussed the parameters of a new grant to create such a center, and Thomas invited Craig to submit a grant proposal along those lines.

Shortly thereafter, in the Fall of 2020, Alessandro Pelizzon contacted Craig Kauffman about joining the Academic Hub of GARN. It was immediately obvious that the kind of global network of diverse, inter-disciplinary researchers the Hub represented was necessary to implement the kind of sustainable tracking system discussed by Thomas and Craig. By 2020, the number of ecological law initiatives was increasing rapidly across the world, making it difficult for any one individual or group to track them all. Those involved in previous attempts to track initiatives realized it would take a global network of people actively monitoring events in their area and reporting them to a core support team that would also be actively researching initiatives and compiling the information in an open-access repository. This idea guided early discussions around the formation of the Academic Hub.

In late-Fall 2020, a diverse group of researchers from around the world began meeting to discuss forming the Academic Hub. Given the funding opportunity presented by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, early discussions focused on designing a proposal for a center along the lines discussed by Thomas Kruze and Craig Kauffman. From the beginning, discussions emphasized the need to go beyond the rights of Nature to include all the distinct cultural and legal approaches to ecological jurisprudence that were emerging across the world. Thus, the project was conceptualized as an Eco Jurisprudence Monitor in the hope that it could serve as a common platform for building connections and understanding among different movements and communities, representing different cultures, that arguably have similar goals overall, but were working in parallel or even saw each other as competitors.

The initial Academic Hub members sought to make the project as inclusive as possible, not just in terms of content, but in terms of process as well. Early discussions on how to conceptualize the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor included a diverse group of people representing Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives from many different continents and cultures. To ensure that the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor would be designed in a way that would be seen as useful by those working in the area of ecological jurisprudence, and that would be inclusive of different perspectives and approaches, the Academic Hub used $5,000 in seed money from GARN to commission a survey of diverse individuals working in the area of ecological jurisprudence to ascertain how they understand ecological jurisprudence and what features and resources they would find useful. A diverse group of 45 people from all continents were interviewed by Italo Saco and Sophie De Maat, and this information was used to design the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor platform, and particularly the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker.

The initial vision for the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor was for it to have five programs:

  1. The Eco Jurisprudence Tracker: a program to compile and maintain an updated list of ecological jurisprudence initiatives worldwide. It uses a two-level system for organizing information, consisting of: (1) a dataset that categorizes initiatives in order to track patterns and trends, and (2) individual initiatives pages with information specific to each initiative;
  2. The Legal Toolkit: a program to compile an archive of original legal documents related to the initiatives listed in the Tracker’s dataset, which provide examples of different legal tools being used to advance ecological jurisprudence.
  3. On The Ground Stories and Strategies: a program to compile stories, in activist’s own words, behind different kinds of initiatives from different parts of the world. These are meant to provide examples of the different ways ecological jurisprudence is expressed, the obstacles groups are facing, and the range of strategies being used to overcome these.
  4. The Eco Jurisprudence Library: a program to compile a database of existing publications on ecological jurisprudence as well as researchers actively working on the topic;
  5. Outreach and Communication: a program to raise awareness of the project and connect with networks of lawyers, activists, and policymakers engaged with ecological jurisprudence.

Creating the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker and Legal Toolkit

Given the tremendous scope of work presented by the envisioned Eco Jurisprudence Monitor, it became clear that it would have to be developed incrementally, with different Academic Hub members taking responsibility for leading different components. Given his previous work developing a rights of Nature dataset and his relationship with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Craig Kauffman volunteered to lead the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker and Legal Toolkit programs within the Monitor. In February 2021, Craig submitted a grant proposal to develop the web platform for the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor that could be built out over time, create the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker with an interactive dashboard interface and individual initiative pages, and create the Legal Toolkit as a repository for related legal documents. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund approved a two-year grant in April 2021 to fund these three initial projects. The grant is administered by the University of Oregon and managed by Craig Kauffman, with the Academic Hub Steering Committee serving as an advisory body.

From the survey of ecological jurisprudence practitioners and researchers, two broad goals emerged for the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker (and the Monitor more generally). One was to be able to identify all initiatives and analyze general patterns and trends according to different categories. The other was to understand the context of individual initiatives, recognizing that the text of laws does not tell the whole story in terms of what is happening on the ground. Based on this, the Academic Hub Steering Committee designed the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker with a dual underlying structure. One part is an interactive dashboard driven by a dataset in which initiatives are coded according to categories developed by the Academic Hub. The second part is a network of webpages that provide information on the context of individual initiatives. The vision for the Monitor is to expand the information provided on the unique context of individual initiatives through the On the Ground Stories and Strategies program in a second phase of work.

Between April and July 2021, the Academic Hub Steering Committee collaboratively defined the scope conditions for which initiatives would be included, conceptualized ways for categorizing different initiatives, and developed rules for situating initiatives within these categories. These definitions and rules are detailed in the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker Codebook.

The process of creating the categories and coding rules for the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker was the most difficult part of creating the Tracker, but also the most intellectually productive. The process was guided by a commitment to inclusivity; the discussions focused on how to make space for including as many different perspectives as possible. The dataset’s design includes elements of two distinct approaches that are in inherent tension. To meet the goal of being able to track long-term patterns and trends, some categories in the dataset organize initiatives according to a finite set of pre-determined categories. However, we recognize that the boundaries of any categorization scheme are arbitrary, and at times can be problematic. Consequently, the dataset also provides space to collect information about the unique context and cultural framings of each initiative. And again the vision is to expand information on the unique context of each initiative through the On the Ground Stories and Strategies program in Phase 2 of the Monitor’s development.

In addition, the Academic Hub Steering Committee created a Data Ethics Protocol, led by Kelsey Leonard. The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor follows the Global Indigenous Data Alliance CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. The CARE principles recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights to data governance protected under international law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The CARE Principles acknowledge the importance of collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics for the governance of Indigenous data. 

Beginning in Summer 2021, Craig Kauffman began managing a research team, hired under the Rockefeller Brothers Fund grant, to identify initiatives meeting the definition of ecological jurisprudence, compiling related legal documents (which are archived in the Legal Toolkit), and coding these documents to create the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker dataset. Because ecological jurisprudence legal documents exist in multiple languages, and the cost of translating these into English is prohibitive, research assistants with various language skills were hired to code the documents in their original language.

The Tracker dataset was initially populated with initiatives identified in the dataset of rights of Nature legal provisions created by Craig Kauffman, checking with Alex Putzer for any updates. These initiatives had to be recoded from scratch according to the new categories and coding rules in the Tracker dataset. In addition, the research team began researching and compiling additional initiatives, particularly those that do not adopt a rights-based framing. They did so (and continue to do so) by conducting online searches and monitoring the newsletters and activities of organizations that work on concepts related to ecological jurisprudence, including (but not limited to) rights of nature, animal rights, ecocide, Earth trusteeship, protecting sacred natural sites, ecological civilization, Earth democracy, Earth system governance, planetary boundaries, and various Indigenous models that are consistent with the principles of ecological jurisprudence.

The Eco Jurisprudence Tracker is a living entity that is constantly being updated. We recognize that it no doubt is incomplete and undercounts initiatives by traditionally under-represented groups due to the difficulty of accessing information about them. To address this problem, the Academic Hub is working to expand its connections with international networks of scholars and activist groups to develop a system for identifying more of these kinds of initiatives and requesting permission to include them in the Tracker. We also recognize that the reliance on formal legal documents to identify and code initiatives creates a bias against initiatives by Indigenous and other groups that rely on Oral Knowledge. To address this problem, we developed a procedure for recognizing and including Indigenous and local community initiatives based on Oral Knowledge, detailed in the Codebook.

Given the herculean task of compiling the information within the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker, we would like to acknowledge the researchers that have contributed to this effort. These include Alexis Weisend, Cole Jensen, Peter Seuchting, Italo Carella Saco Vertiz, Catherine Haas, Alexandra Parkinson, Katya Tkhostova, and Anna Jernigan.

Creating the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor Website

In August 2021, Alex Putzer joined the Academic Hub and took responsibility for guiding the design of the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor website. The website was designed between December 2021 and February 2022 by Tom Bensen, in consultation with Alex Putzer and Craig Kauffman. The website was subsequently built out by Morgan Schwartz. The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor logo and related graphic design work was created by Jean Orlebeke of Obek Design.

In the first phase of the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor project, which ends April 1, 2023, we are committed to providing the website in English and Spanish. We are committed to subsequently translating the website into as many different languages as possible and will seek funding to do so in Phase 2 of the project.

The Story Continues….

The Eco Jurisprudence Monitor is a living entity that will constantly evolve and grow over time, and we welcome your participation. Due to its large size and complexity, the project depends on a collaborative model in which different people take responsibility for managing a different piece. As the first phase comes to a close with the launch of the Eco Jurisprudence Tracker and related Legal Toolkit, several members of the Academic Hub are already beginning work on Phase 2. In 2022 Laura Burgers (Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Amsterdam) agreed to be Editor in Chief of a blog that will serve as a forum for discussion and debate on issues related to ecological jurisprudence. Lucy Gavaghan, a student at the University of Edinburgh, is developing a podcast featuring interviews with activists, lawyers, and policymakers advancing ecological jurisprudence. This will be one of the platforms through which the people advancing ecological jurisprudence can tell their stories as part of the On the Ground Stories and Strategies program. In addition, Craig Kauffman is working with documentary filmmaker Pietro Torrisi to raise financing for a docuseries on the emergence of an ecological jurisprudence. This will add further content to the On the Ground Stories and Strategies program. Alessandro Pelizzon has agreed to manage the Eco Jurisprudence Library project.

We invite you to join us! If you are interested in participating in one of the existing programs of the Eco Jurisprudence Monitor, or have an idea for a new project, please contact us at info@ecojurisprudence.org!