Landmark Ruling Blocks Mining in Ecuadorian Forest, Citing Rights of Nature

Los Cedros Forest

Los Cedros Forest Andreas Kay via Flickr

Ecuador’s constitutional court has blocked plans to mine copper and gold in Los Cedros, a protected cloud forest, ruling that the plans violate the rights of nature.

“This is a historic victory in favor of nature,” Natalia Greene of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature said in a statement. “This sets a great juridical precedent to continue with other threatened protected forests.”

Ecuador’s national mining company, Enami EP, holds mining rights in two-thirds of the reserve, which is home to 178 threatened or near-threatened species, including the the vulnerable white-headed capuchin, the endangered mantled howler monkey, and the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey.

“If mining started in Los Cedros, species would go extinct, without a doubt,” said Roo Vandegrift, a biologist at the University of Oregon, told Mongabay.

In 2018, the government of Cotacachi, an Ecuadorian canton that is home to 43 Indigenous communities, challenged the project, winning in a provincial court. Enami appealed to Ecuador’s highest court, which upheld the ruling Monday.

In its decision, the high court said that the government did not provide the “scientific evidence necessary to avoid and mitigate serious and irreversible damage to species and ecosystems, and therefore, to the rights of nature, to the water and a healthy and balanced environment.” The ruling effectively cancels all mining concessions and environmental and water permits.

“Policy frameworks that place humans in context as a part of nature … rather than placing humans as above, or apart from, nature, will be a necessary part of addressing the serious environmental issues that our planet is facing,” Mika Peck, a senior lecturer in biology at the University of Sussex, told The Guardian. “This ruling is as important to nature as Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man were to our own species.”