RULNAT - Ruling on Nature. Animals and the Environment before the Court (2020-2024)

Scientific Coordination

Coordinator: Daniela Berti (CNRS-CEH).
Scientific partnership: Vanessa Manceron (CNRS-LESC), 
Sandrine Revet (CNRS-CERI), and Vincent Chapaux (Université Libre de Bruxelles).

The team comprises anthropologists (Daniela Berti, Vanessa Manceron, Sandrine Revet, Chiara Letizia, Stéphane Gros, Mara Benadusi, Giovanni Gugg, Isacco Turina, Anthony Good, Carolina Angel Botero, Claire Duboscq), legal scholars (Vincent Chapaux, Pierre Brunet) a geographer (Joëlle Smadja) and a lawyer (Ritwick Dutta).

Fieldwork will be carried out on mainly in eight countries (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, the United States, Colombia, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and shall be coupled with the team’s legal scholars’ cross-sectional expertise. 


In this project we study how issues related to animals and the environment protection are brought before law courts in different countries; how they are handled by lawyers, activists and the state; how they are concretely implemented in litigation.

The animal and environment protection debate has begun to intensify throughout the world and cases related to these issues are repeatedly brought before courts. The way in which these issues are addressed is evolving and animals’ or nature’s ‘own interests’ are being increasingly highlighted. 

Animals – and a fortiori natural resources – are legally property that can be owned; if they benefit from certain protections, they are not persons in law. Recently, the question has been raised of giving them a different legal status (and not only the ‘right’ to be protected). Some legislators or courts have thus granted the status of legal person to various elements of the environment (trees, rivers, mountains, glaciers) and a similar move concerning animals has been initiated, questioning the boundary between humans and animals. However, such a proposal, which can often have different meanings and implications, is not without provoking criticism in legal circles. While there is some consensus regarding the need to better protect the environment and animals, there is no consensus on the legal tools that should be used to this end, nor is there a shared vision of the relationship between humans and nature. Most litigation concerning the protection of animals or of the environment is actually decided by the courts within the framework of existing civil or criminal laws without advocating any change of legal categories.

Our approach is based on the study of legal cases in their multiple dimensions, in order to analyse how relationships between humans and animals or the environment are shaped – or not – by legal action, in a comparative dimension. Indeed, judgments are circulating and are cited in other cases on different continents. This circulation of ideas and legal arguments calls for emphasis on reciprocal appropriations and possible misunderstandings. 

The project is structured around five questions: 

- Legal protection of animals and of the environment

- Attributing ‘legal personhood’ to animals and to the environment 

- Conflicts between humans and animals  

- The role of experts in court cases 

- Legal precedents and the global debate.

Type of project

Monday 10 May 2021
Judith Rochfeld, professeur de droit privé à l'Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne
Le climat est-il représenté dans les procès climatiques ?
Les procès climatiques se multiplient partout dans le monde, que ce soit contre les Etats, accusés de "carence fautive" à lutter contre les dérèglements ou contre les entreprises, notamment les 90-100 "Carbon majors". Ils sont menés à l'initiative de collectivités territoriales, d'associations ou fondations, ou encore de citoyens. Ils sont le vecteur d'argumentations inédites et de tentatives diverses de représentation d'entités naturelles ou de communautés bénéficiaires. Le propos retracera la montée de ces procès, leurs argumentations et leur diffusion mondiale, et s'arrêtera sur les débats qui ont plus particulièrement avancé des formes de représentations de la nature ou de communautés non personnifiées.

Friday 5 March 2021
Victor David, Chargé de Recherche à l’IRD – UMR SENS
Le principe unitaire de vie, fondement des droits reconnus à une Nature et ses éléments, sujets de droit aux Iles Loyauté en Nouvelle Calédonie

Friday 15 January 2021
visioconférence :
Droits bioculturels et droits de la nature

Les droits bioculturels sont-ils le fondement de la personnification juridique des entités naturelles ?  
Pierre Brunet, professeur de droit à l’Université Paris 1-Panthéon-Sorbonne (École de droit)

Droits bioculturels en action : les Gardiens du fleuve Atrato en Colombie
Sandrine Revet


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