Eugenie Sage
Protecting the environment in our constitution

The Government-led ‘Constitutional Conversation’ currently underway is a chance for the public to share their views on a new constitutional set-up for Aotearoa New Zealand. We’ve got a submission guide to help you have your say.

If there is sufficient public interest in an area, the independent advisory group leading the review is able to consider an issue. It is not limited to the issues set out in their terms of reference.

I believe the review is a perfect opportunity for New Zealand to join 177 out of 193 counties which recognise the right to a healthy environment in their constitution. New Zealand is one of only 16 countries that do not have a constitutional commitment to environmental rights.

Our distinctive coastal, mountain, forest and river landscapes are part of our identity as New Zealanders. We depend on nature as the basis of life, for good health and for our economy, so we need to protect it. Entrenching a commitment to nature in our constitution is a clear way to achieve this for generations to come.

For example, the South African Bill of Rights (which is similar to New Zealand’s Bill of Rights) includes the following clause:

24. Environment. Everyone has the right –

(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and

(b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that –

(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

(ii) promote conservation; and

(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

Bolivia has given nature equal rights to humans.  Bolivia’s ‘Pachamama’, or Law of Mother Earth sets out 11 rights for nature, such as the right not to be polluted;

For more information on the issue of constitutional recognition for the natural environment, have a look at the great submissions by Forest & Bird and Fish & Game.

I urge you to make a submission to the Constitutional Advisory Panel and ask it to recommend that there be constitutional provision for the protection of nature and the right to a clean and healthy environment as a human right. Submissions now close on Wednesday 31 July.

2 thoughts on “Protecting the environment in our constitution

  1. Sounds great, Eugenie. However, has the South African bill of rights prevented continued ecological damage? Has anyone in South Africa been prosecuted for going against right 24a or 24bi? How about other countries? If all countries except 16 have the right to a healthy environment, why do we still have a deteriorating environment?

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  2. South African’s Bill of rights has such clause 29 and we don’t? What a shock!

    No wonder Key govt thinks they can get away with murdering our environment as well as own people (their health or/and livelihood)…
    Problem is; Constitution is such a remote/seemingly irrelevant topic to the great majority of population’s daily life…Lots of education/awareness required. All the best!

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