POLLY HANDS THE BATON TO HER TEAM
Visionary, Earth Lawyer Polly Higgins sadly passed away on 21 April, 2019 after a short illness. Her work is being continued by her growing team based in the UK, The Netherlands and internationally. Polly’s colleague and co-founder of her non-profit organisation, Jojo Mehta is co-ordinating the team.
This article, published shortly after her death, indicates the magnitude of Polly’s mission and some of the challenges she faced: Getting the Law in Order
Polly’s last filmed interview in early 2019
DECEMBER 2018: Top Shell bosses and Dutch Minister to be investigated for Climate Ecocide, ‘the missing International Crime of our Time.’ British Barrister Polly Higgins calls for criminal law of ecocide to impose a legal duty on governments to protect the public from dangerous industrial practices.
At the launch of the independent Preliminary Examination into Climate Ecocide, Polly Higgins said: “I look forward to publicly reporting our findings. If the evidence shows that continuous industrial activity known to adversely affect climate breakdown has been permitted, then both the Dutch government Minister and Shell’s senior officers could be held responsible for pervasive impacts on the world’s population at large, including the systemic and wide-spread collapse of ecosystems.” Read Climate Crime press release here.
(to watch Polly give the De Balie Freedom Lecture 2017 above, start at 21.16 – ends at 51.10)
Polly Higgins was a pioneer; since stepping down from her legal practice as a court advocate, she devoted her time to one client – the Earth.
Her work is groundbreaking: internationally, she was the lead advocate for and expert on ecocide crime, award-winning author of Eradicating Ecocide, creator of the first ever non-commercial global trust fund for Earth Protectors, generator of change-making Earth protecting laws and a driving force behind the expansion of a ‘rights based’ narrative towards a ‘duties and responsibilities’ based governance model.
She was the co-founder of Ecological Defence Integrity, based in Stroud (UK), where her team run all core operations. Non-profit Ecological Defence Integrity was established in response to the recognition that new law for the Earth requires a far wider base of support than most governments will provide. Ecological Defence Integrity administers Stop Ecocide – an unprecedented global funding platform created to fund ecocide law.
At the UK level, Polly worked with activists who seek to protect their communities and land from serious harm, and increasingly are facing criminal charges. Polly and team provided free assistance and court document preparation to these frontline protectors who, like the Quakers before them, wish to give testimony in court on point of conscience – as Conscientious Protectors, presenting innovative legal submissions under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Right to Freedom of Conscience) until new precedents are established in criminal courts.
Polly garnered a number of awards for her work advocating for a law of Ecocide. She received an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Business School Lausanne 2013; in the same year she became the Honorary Arne Naess Professor at Oslo University. Her first book, Eradicating Ecocide, won the Peoples Book Prize in 2011 (updated 2nd edition, September 2015). In November 2015 VPRO (Dutch BBC) featured a documentary about her work, called Advocate for the Earth. She was ranked as No.35 in Salt magazine’s 2016 Top 100 Inspiring Women of the world list, was the 2016 recipient of Polarbröd‘s Utstickarpriset for Future Leadership, and the 2017 prizewinner of the Slovakian Ekotopfilm Award.
INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY WORK
Polly led an international Ecocide criminal law response team of lawyers, forensic experts and former judges who assist nation States that lack the financial backing of western nations. Applying an international ‘duties and responsibilities’ based governance model, and coordinating experts from legal, forensic and environmental security backgrounds, briefing sessions are provided to climate vulnerable States on climate and ecological ecocide crime. Based in the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and the US, the Ecocide law response team operate as independent advisors. The team are not paid by nation States; each team-member offers their time freely and pro-bono.
ECOCIDE LAW ADVOCATE
Ecocide law seeks to re-balance the greatest injustice of our time; the lack of a legal duty of care. Existing duties prioritise profit. Profit that arises out of ecocide has long-term, significant adverse consequences; at present it is not a crime to cause extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems. As a result, dangerous industrial activity continues unabated and the knock-on impact of loss and damage remains unaddressed.
In April 2010, Polly submitted a fully drafted proposal to the United Nations Law Commission. Since then, Polly brought together many experts and advised many governments, NGO’s, the UN and other related organisations on Ecocide law. She spoke throughout the world at all levels; political, economic and ecological. The author of three books; her first, Eradicating Ecocide, garnered the award The Peoples Book of the Year (2011). She was a UK based Barrister (although she no longer practiced in court), International lawyer and world renowned Ecocide law expert.
Polly’s award-winning book Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet (1st Ed 2010, 2nd Ed 2015) – sets out her full proposal that was submitted to the United Nations. Her second book, Earth is our Business (pub. 2012), takes a deeper look at how Ecocide law shall play out for business and includes the draft Ecocide Act and indictments that were used in the mock Ecocide trial held in the UK Supreme Court in 2011. Polly was named one of the World’s Top 10 Visionary Thinkers by the Ecologist and celebrated as The Planet’s Lawyer by the 2010 Change Awards. Amongst many of her keynote speeches, she delivered the 2012 50th anniversary Rachel Carson Memorial Lecture. You can read an article about Ecocide here: The duty to care for our common home.
Polly Higgins (1968 – 2019) was a UK based barrister, author and lead expert on Ecocide law. She lived in the UK.
Studying in Scotland, she received a First Class MA Hons degree from Aberdeen University and a concurrent First Class Diploma from Utrecht University; thereafter a Post-graduate degree from Glasgow University. Polly Higgins moved to London to study law at City University prior to entering the Inns of Court School of Law (97-98). She was called to the English Bar in 1998. She trained as a pupil at the Chambers of Baroness Scotland of Astral QC and was a tenant at Bridewell Chambers.
In 2006, together with Dr Gerhardt Knies and Dr Gerry Wolff, she became a Founding Member of DESERTEC (Solar) and in 2008 sat as a Supervisory Board Member of the DESERTEC Foundation for two years.
In 2010 upon submitting a fully worked proposal to the United Nations for an amendment to the Rome Statute to include Ecocide as an international Crime against Peace, Polly Higgins wrote her award-winning first book, Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet (Peoples Book Prize 2011). The following year a mock Ecocide Trial was held in the UK Supreme Court, live-streamed by Sky News prosecuted and defended by top barristers and QC’s including leading Human Rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC. Research undertaken by University of London’s School of Advanced Studies Human Rights Consortium led to previously unseen UN documents entering into the public domain and the publication of a Research Paper into history of law of Ecocide at the UN.
Polly Higgins subsequently wrote her second book, Earth is our Business: changing the rules of the game. The following year she founded the Earth Law Alliance. In 2013, Polly led a groundbreaking course at Schumacher College introducing Community Chartering into the UK, the first being the Falkirk Community Charter.
Holder of the Arne Naess Honorary Professorship Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at University of Oslo (2013/14), Polly Higgins was awarded an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Business School Lausanne for her services advancing Earth Law.
In 2015 Advocate for the Earth (VPRO documentary), which profiled Polly and other lawyers advocating for Ecocide law, led to questions being asked in the Dutch Parliament (The Netherlands had been one of the few countries to object to Ecocide as a Crime under the Rome Statute during the initial drafting).
Speaking includes guest lectures at numerous universities including New York University, University of California Berkeley, University of London, Uppsala University and University of British Columbia. Notable public talks include: EARTHtalks at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna; Keynote Speaker at the 9th Annual International Student Conference in Strasbourg; Lead Speaker at the Tobias Leadership Conference, Colorado. Polly delivered the Rachel Carson 50th Anniversary Memorial Lecture both in London and in the Netherlands; Lead Speaker at the International Leadership Association’s Annual Global Conference; World Peace Conference and at the RSA (London). She made a number of TED talks. Polly spoke on a diverse range of platforms, from business to peace, from law to ecology.
P. Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our Earth, Shepheard-Walwyn, London (2010, 2015).
P. Higgins, Earth is our Business: changing the rules of the game, Shepheard-Walwyn, London (2012).
JOURNAL ARTICLES/RESEARCH PAPERS
D. Short, L. Kubicki, A. Gauger, M. Pouye, P. Higgins, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace, Human Rights Consortium, (2012, 2013).
P. Higgins, D. Short, and N. South, Protecting the Planet: A Proposal for a Law of Ecocide, Crime, Law and Social Change 59, no. 3 (2013) 251–66.
GOVERNMENT BRIEFING DOCUMENT
P. Higgins, Closing the Door to Dangerous Industrial Activity, Concept Paper (2012).
SOME RECENT DISCOURSE
B. Lay, L. Neyret, D. Short, A.Oposa, Timely and Necessary: Ecocide Law as Urgent and Emerging, The Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol 28 (2015) J.Juris 431 – 452.
Revue Internationale Interdisciplinaire, L’Ordre public écologique: Du concept à la juridicité, Editions L’Harmattan (2014).
S Jodoin & M-C Segger (Eds), Sustainable Development, International Criminal Justice, and Treaty Implementation, Cambridge University Press, (2013)
F Wijdekop, The duty to care for our common home, New Internationalist (2016)
United Nations Environment Programme, research report, climate-change-litigation (2017)