Ecocide law: why & how
Existing international declarations, treaties and protocols, do not impose an international legal requirement to uphold nation state and corporate responsibility for ecocide. The impact of including ecocide law as an international crime shall be significant; prohibiting dangerous industrial activity that causes ecocide and exacerbates climate change has the potential to be a game changer on a global scale.
Ecocide crime is an international roadmap to Earth protection and climate justice. High risk threats, from sea-level rises and extreme weather events shall begin to abate; the lives of frontline communities shall be safeguarded in law and nation state-sanctioned industrial immunity will no longer exist. Ecocide crime protects lives, prevents the most serious excesses of climate disaster and prohibits dangerous industrial activity.
Criminalising ecocide at an international level requires one or more nation state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to propose the inclusion of ecocide to the existing “most serious crimes of concern”. You can read the process that will be required to implement ecocide as an international crime of the Rome Statute here.
Missing law: ecological law
We add ECOCIDE to the list of international crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Ecocide is serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, and includes climate or cultural damage as well as direct ecological damage.
Establishing a crime of ecocide ensures that persons of superior responsibility – eg CEOs and government ministers – become individually criminally responsible for serious damage which they recklessly cause or contribute to. This puts an end to the state-sanctioned immunity currently enjoyed by industrial polluters.
Any member state, however small, can propose an amendment to the ICC’s governing document, the Rome Statute. Once tabled, it cannot be vetoed. When two thirds of ICC members sign up to it, it becomes law.
“In view of the huge damage being done to our planet, and the alarming climate change that we are experiencing as a result, initiatives that once again seek to make ecocide a criminal offence are more than welcome.”
Jozias van Aartsen, Mayor of Amsterdam
The hidden story – Carbon Majors
Our inability to halt dangerous industrial activity is the hidden story behind climate change. Carbon Major industries exacerbate/drive climate change – to such a degree that for Small Island Developing States (for example Pacific and Caribbean islands), the lives and livelihoods of millions of people are under threat.
What has now been established is the direct link between rising temperatures, carbon emissions and major carbon emitters.
100 companies are source of over 70% emissions
The major perpetrators: 100 active fossil fuel producers including ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP Billiton and Gazprom are linked to 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. (See: Summary of Report, CPD Carbon Majors Report 2017, and the Carbon Majors website)
Faced with escalating climate emergencies, it is essential to find a way to hold to account State and businesses so that communities can be protected. There is no route-map to disrupt the escalating cycle of carbon – climate chaos lock-in that continues at an ever increasing rate. By prohibiting ecocide and creating a law that makes it mandatory for States and corporations to end ecological ecocide and significantly abate climate ecocide, temperature rise can be minimised and major carbon emitters prohibited.
By prohibiting carbon major corporations and carbon major States, protection can be sought, preventing and pre-empting the most serious crime of our time.
Satellite mapping tools predict that sea-level rises from 4 °C increase (7.2 °F) in temperature — a business-as-usual scenario — could lock in enough sea level rise to submerge land currently home to over 470 million people. To significantly abate sea-level rises (and climate ecocide) carbon emission cuts are required. (For estimates, mapping and report, see scientific research organization Climate Central about impact on small island states)
The crime of ecocide
Ecocide adversely impacts on many levels, the harm can be both ecological and cultural. Our emotions and our senses are affected; we feel and see the adverse impact of ecocide. Communities most harmed by ecocide suffer what is known as solastalgia. At a collective level communities feel a profound sense of isolation and intense desolation. This is compounded by the community’s lack of power in the face of State and corporate might, the pain of being unable to console in times of great distress and the loss of homeland. Without the sense of deep care for people and planet, our laws are singularly absent of proper governance. Ecocide law gives enforcement to a ‘legal duty of care’ not only for only communities but also future generations and the wider life of our Earth.
Polly Higgins on her mission to make ecocide the fifth international crime against peace: from De Balie
Ecocide law is Earth law; and those with significant power – corporations and States – will have a duty to protect. Protection of people and planet can be done. How we choose to leave our Earth is our legacy.
How a new Law can disrupt Climate Change
The Governance Pyramid (see also our animation at stopecocide.earth)
Currently ecosystem destruction and climate change is governed by first and second tier governance: voluntary ‘soft law’ provisions and trade and commerce provisions.
Some international examples are the Paris Agreement, Millenium Development Goals’s, Sustainable Development Goal’s and UN Global Compact. All are based on good faith. Yet, when climate change and ecosystem destruction occurs, there is no recourse at the first tier.
The second tier of governance provides limited remedy for ecosystem destruction primarily by fines; remedy for climate change is even weaker, with no remedy in place. The burden is on the individual to sue; whilst there may be a pay-out, business can and do remain operating. Where there is a court declaration of State obligations, enforcement is limited. E.g. Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands; citizens sued the State for taking insufficient action to keep Dutch citizens safe from dangerous climate change. Climate litigation cases have tripled since 2014. As the UNEP climate-change-litigation report highlights, civil litigation provides limited remedy.
An added layer of weak governance is the movement of unaccounted-for Dark money. Financing think-tanks, corporate lobbyists with State legislators to develop “model bills”; funding climate disinformation and corporate driven agendas.
The top tier, is the tier of Justice; here the State is obligated under criminal law to prosecute alleged offenders. Individuals are held to account in a criminal court of law at a State level and for 124 States, at the International Criminal Court. This is where there is missing law – without a crime of ecocide, society remains unprotected, climate change and ecosystem destruction remain driven by dark money, State sanctioned by non-action. Thus, there is a justice deficit.
From harm to harmony
A vicious cycle is in place; loss, damage or destruction spirals upwards to climate crisis, climate refugees and displacement of hundreds of millions. Soft law and trade and commerce provisions do not and cannot stop climate change.
The cycle of loss destruction and harm with no mechanism to halt the Crime of Ecocide.
By making ecocide crime this cycle can be disrupted
A new cycle – a virtuous cycle – can be established: Earth protection becomes the overriding priority. Carbon Majors are held to account and prohibited; clean energy is a legal requirement and consequently climate change is significantly abated
Justice is required, for both people and planet. Resetting the scales of justice restores and protects humanity, our Earth and its ecosystems from climate change. We have a moral – and ultimately a legal – obligation to ensure the safety, health and well-being of others, human and non-human.
This is justice – for nature, humanity and future generations.
Read about our Mission at stopecocide.earth – to re-align law to protect the Earth.