Kate Mackintosh, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Grant Dawson and Gaspard van der Woude, Wildlife Crime: Testing the Waters for Ecocide.

Wildlife crime – broadly understood as killing and/or trafficking in endangered species – is out of control. In 2017, Hong Kong authorities made what was then the world’s largest ivory seizure, of around 7.2 tonnes. Two years later, in 2019, this record was exceeded three times in the space of three months, with the largest seizure reaching 9.1 tonnes. It can be estimated that over 900 elephants were killed for this last seizure alone. Many of the targeted species are expected to become extinct in the wild in the coming years: the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has warned that one million species are facing extinction in the next decades. The loss of a species disrupts the delicate balance of the entire ecosystem, and the threat to the stability of ecosystems has never been this pressing. As the world is negotiating the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, with one of the key objectives of protecting 30% of land and sea areas, matters pertaining to the effective protection of these areas and the species they host will only become more relevant.

Proponents of a new international crime of ecocide argue that the destruction of our shared environment presents a threat a least on the scale of the existing international crimes, and should therefore be included in their number. It is widely acknowledged that this threat results from the three interlinked factors of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. The current system for the preservation of biodiversity and endangered species through the prevention of wildlife crime is failing. Lack of resources and jurisdictional constraints often leave domestic law enforcement agencies unable to deal with the transnational criminal networks responsible. In this paper we explore whether the concept of ecocide as an international crime could offer the breakthrough required for wildlife crime to be effectively addressed internationally.