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Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands

Through Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) meetings and the SWS Climate Change and Wetlands Initiative, a group, including wetland scientists, a climate scientist and attorneys, has developed the proposed Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands and has formed the SWS Rights of Wetlands Initiative.

We are calling for wetlands to be given legal rights, similar to how humans have rights. This initiative builds on many Indigenous peoples' knowledge that recognises nature as a living entity. We hope that universal recognition of the Rights of Wetlands would help reduce the destruction of wetlands.

The initiative offers an opportunity for improved cross-cultural understanding, respect, and collaboration between Indigenous peoples and other communities.

We view the Declaration as an opportunity to promote a paradigm shift and step-change in the human-wetlands relationship that could lead to a fundamental change in the trajectory for global wetland ecosystems.

An open access article has been recently published describing the approach in more detail - Towards a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands and Supplementary Material with timeline and world map (see and

The full text of the Declaration can be read below.

We are reaching out to the public, non-government and government organisations to endorse this approach and we welcome your views and comments. Please contact us if you would like further information.

Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands

  • ACKNOWLEDGING  that wetlands are essential to the healthy functioning of Earth processes and provision of essential ecosystem services, including climate regulation at all scales, water supply and water purification, flood storage, drought mitigation and storm damage prevention;

  • ACKNOWLEDGING that wetlands have significance for the spiritual or sacred inspirations and belief systems of many people worldwide, but particularly for Indigenous peoples and local communities living in close relationship to wetlands, and that wetlands provide opportunities to learn from and about Nature, which supports scientific understanding and innovation, cultural expression and artistic creativity;

  • FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGING that humans and the natural world with all of its biodiversity depend upon the healthy functioning of wetlands and the benefits that they provide, and that wetlands play a significant role in global climate regulation;

  • ALARMED that existing wetland conservation and management approaches have failed to stem the loss and degradation of wetlands of all types around the globe;

  • FURTHER ALARMED that global climate destabilisation and biodiversity losses are accelerating and that efforts to reverse these trends are failing;

  • ACKNOWLEDGING that peoples around the world of many cultures and faiths have recognised for millennia that Nature, or elements of Nature, are sentient living beings with inherent value and rights independent of their value to humans, and that Indigenous peoples, local communities and non-governmental organisations have been contributing to a global movement to recognise the rights of Nature;

  • AWARE that continued degradation and loss of wetlands threaten the very fabric of the planetary Web of Life upon which depend the livelihoods, well-being, community life and spirituality of many people, particularly Indigenous peoples and local communities who live in close relationship with wetlands;

  • GUIDED BY recent legal recognition of the inherent rights of Nature, including recognition of the entire Colombian Amazon as an ‘entity subject to rights’ by the Colombian Supreme Court; recognition of the rights and legal and living personhood of the Whanganui River through the Te Awa Tupua Act (Whanganui River Claims Settlement Act) agreed upon by the Māori iwi and the New Zealand Parliament; and Ecuador’s first-in-the-world recognition of the rights of Nature in their Constitution;

  • CONVINCED that recognising the enduring rights and the legal and living personhood of all wetlands around the world will enable a paradigm shift in the human–Nature relationship towards greater understanding, reciprocity and respect leading to a more sustainable, harmonious and healthy global environment that supports the well-being of both human and non-human Nature;

  • FURTHER CONVINCED that recognising the rights and legal and living personhood of all wetlands and the paradigm shift that this represents will lead to increased capacity to manage wetlands in a manner that contributes to reversing the destabilisation of the global climate and biodiversity loss;

  • DECLARES that all wetlands are entities entitled to inherent and enduring rights, which derive from their existence as members of the Earth community and should possess legal standing in courts of law. These inherent rights include the following:

    1. The right to exist

    2. The right to their ecologically determined location in the landscape

    3. The right to natural, connected and sustainable hydrological regimes

    4. The right to ecologically sustainable climatic conditions

    5. The right to have naturally occurring biodiversity, free of introduced or invasive species that disrupt their ecological integrity

    6. The right to integrity of structure, function, evolutionary processes and the ability to fulfil natural ecological roles in the Earth’s processes

    7. The right to be free from pollution and degradation

    8. The right to regeneration and restoration.

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