What is ‘ecocide’?
The term ecocide was coined in 1970 at the ‘Conference on War and National Responsibility’ in Washington, DC by American biologist Arthur Galston to describe “massive damage and destruction of ecosystems”. Then troughout the ‘70s political leaders, scholars and academics used the term to denounce international environmental crimes. In 1978 the idea emerged to include ecocide as an international crime as follows: “an international crime (which) may result, inter alia, from: a serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the safeguarding and preservation of the human environment, such as those prohibiting massive pollution of the atmosphere or of the seas.”
Since then various scholars and lawyers have attempted to insert ecocide as an international crime to no avail. However, in 2010 Polly Higgins formally proposed an ecocide law to the United Nations, reopening a much needed conversation. Read ecocide’s full history here.
Today’s official definition of ecocide is: “a crime against the Earth itself, not just against humans. It covers the direct damage caused to the Earth’s land, sea and river systems, the flora and fauna within the affected ecosystems, as well the resultant impact on the climate.”
What is the Ecocide Project?
The ecocide project by the Human Rights Consortium, University of London, England is a research paper that aims to provide a foundation of understanding regarding ecocide as well as its legal framework.
Read full report here.
What is the legal position of ecocide?
International Law: ecocide should be proposed as the 5th international crime against peace to the International Criminal Court.
- Several “soft laws” such as the Paris Agreement are voluntary and cannot be enforced.
- Many national laws fail to really regulate environmental damage.
- International corporations often take advantage of weak environmental laws in developing nations, and get away with it because there is no international law impeding them from doing so.
How can an international crime of ecocide be created?
Currently the Rome Statute has 4 International Crimes
By amending the 1998 Rome Statute.
How can that be achieved?
- The head of one signatory needs to propose the inclusion of ecocide as a crime
- The proposal needs a simple majority of members to take it up
- Any member state can amend the proposal
- If the amendment is accepted by two thirds majority it can be added to the statute
- States ratify the amendment
- It comes into force a year after ratification is submitted
Read more about the process here
What would an ecocide law achieve?
If ecocide were an international crime it would be legally enforceable—unlike international treaties, agreements etc..
If ecocide were an international crime it would make senior executives of polluting companies personally criminally responsible.
If ecocide were an international crime government ministers wouldn’t give permits to environmentally damaging projects.
If ecocide were an international crime banks would think twice before investing in ecocidal projects.
If ecocide were an international crime the whole polluting infrastructure would crumble.
Want to know more?
Who are the world’s biggest polluters?
*you might notice many are owned by states…