The definition of ecocide as submitted by Polly Higgins to the UN Law commission in 2010 is as follows: “loss, damage or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies)… such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished“.
Further down this page you will find a working draft, currently undergoing refinement in collaboration with our legal allies.
Currently it is not an international crime, climate justice is predominantly a “soft law”. Where the United Nations has failed to address the wider issue of justice through annual negotiations, the International Criminal Court has the ability to prosecute, if there is law. Serious international crime can be and is prosecuted in many countries throughout the world, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The amendment to the Rome Statute for Ecocide Law, protects from serious harm both people and planet from corporate and climate activity.
Dangerous industrial activities and climate disasters are the ultimate responsibility of the very people who have the power to prevent the serious harm, at a State and corporate level. Ecocide law is a legal route that will significantly abate climate chaos, protect millions of lives and prevent serious harm by imposing State and corporate responsibility for dangerous industrial and climate activity. Ecocide law has a history spanning nearly 50 years, find a summary of the history here.
Criminalising ecocide at an international level requires one or more State Parties 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. Existing laws, including international declarations, treaties and protocols, do not impose a universal legal requirement to uphold State and corporate responsibility for serious harm. In response to this, a draft law of Ecocide was submitted by Polly Higgins in April 2010 into the United Nations Law Commission.
The Model Law – proposed amendment to the Rome Statute (working draft)
- For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means any of the following acts when committed knowingly or negligently at any time resulting in mass damage or destruction of natural living systems:
- causing or failing to prevent widespread long-term or severe loss damage or destruction of ecosystems of a given territory, such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be destroyed or severely disrupted (direct ecocide)
- causing or failing to prevent the destruction or severe disruption of a way of life dependent upon the ecosystems of a given territory (cultural ecocide)
- causing or failing to prevent atmospheric emissions in a given territory such that peaceful enjoyment by inhabitants of that territory and/or other territories is destroyed or severely disrupted (climate ecocide)
- preventing or failing to assist migration with dignity of human communities displaced as a consequence of (a) (b) or (c) above (indirect cultural ecocide)
- For the purpose of paragraph 1:
- “natural living systems” means ecosystems and their continuing integrity
- “ecosystem” means a biological community of interdependent inhabitants and their physical environment
- “territory” means an identifiable geographical area or habitat unrestricted by state or jurisdictional boundaries
- “peaceful enjoyment” means the continuance of day-to-day life without undue let or hindrance
- “inhabitants” means indigenous occupants and/or settled communities of a territory, whether human or otherwise
- “migration with dignity” means the rehoming of a displaced community in a new territory having full respect to the displaced community’s human rights and freedoms as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and accorded to any already settled population of the new territory
- The perpetrator’s conduct caused or may reasonably be expected to cause mass damage or destruction of natural living systems.
- The perpetrator’s conduct has or will destroy or severely disrupt the peaceful enjoyment or way of life of inhabitants or prevent their migration with dignity.
- The perpetrator’s conduct was knowing or negligent where the perpetrator knew or should have known the likelihood of mass damage or destruction of natural living systems.
- The perpetrator is a person of superior responsibility within the course of state, corporate or any other entity’s activity.
What ECOCIDE LAW will achieve
LAW OF ECOCIDE
• Prevents the risk of and/or actual extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s);
• prohibits decisions that result in extensive damage to or destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s);
• pre-empts decision-making of a political, financial and business nature that may lead to significant harm.
DUTY OF CARE
Superior responsibility provision: an international and transboundary duty of care on any person or persons who exercises a position of superior responsibility, without exemption, in either private or public capacity to prevent the risk of and/or actual extensive damage to or destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s).
Business provision: an international and transboundary duty of care on CEOs and directors of a business and/or any person who exercises rights over a given territory to ensure ecocide does not occur.
Political provision: an international and transboundary duty of care on governmental actors, specifically Heads of State and Ministers with environment/energy/climate change portfolios, to ensure ecocide does not occur and to provide emergency assistance before, during and after to other territories at risk or adversely affected by ecocide.
Financial provision: an international and transboundary duty of care on financiers, investors, CEOs and directors of any banking and investment institutions who exercises a position of superior responsibility, to ensure ecocide is not financed.
A law of Ecocide also imputes a legal duty of care in the event of severe weather events (e.g. rising sea-levels, droughts, earthquakes). The United Nations Trusteeship Council’s purpose (as one of the founding pillars of the UN Charter) was to assist territories that were unable to self-govern; it is proposed that the Trusteeship Council re-open it’s doors and be put to use again to assist non-self governing territories that have been or are at risk of being harmed by Ecocide. It can be used to assist territories suffering from Climate ecocide as well as ecological ecocide and cultural ecocide. By re-opening the UN Trusteeship Council chamber (set in abeyance since 1994), Member States that are facing ecocide, and thus can no longer self-govern, have a ready-made forum in which to appeal to and receive aid. For instance, nations seeking a humanitarian response to flooding and rising sea-levels could then seek the assistance of the international community under the auspices of the Trusteeship Council, to ensure that nearby nations are supported as they give safe harbour to frontline States that have or about to suffer climate ecocide.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the governing document which sets out the existing international Crimes. The international crimes currently provided for under the Rome Statute do not however address:
• the protection of ecology (non-human inhabitants of a territory);
• the protection of indigenous and cultural rights (for example when there is destruction of a traditional way of life); or
• loss, damage and destruction that occurs in peace time.
Ecocide crime shall address all of this and was included in earlier drafts, until it was removed in 1996. You can read about ecocide law history here and download the The Human Rights Consortium research paper “Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime Against Peace“.
There are currently 124 nation States that are signatories to the Rome Statute. Amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court must be proposed, adopted, and ratified in accordance with Articles 121 and 122 of the Statute (you can download core ICC texts here). Any State Party to the Statute can propose an amendment. Adoption of the proposed amendment is by a two-thirds majority vote in either a meeting of the Assembly of States Parties or a review conference called by the Assembly. An amendment comes into force for all States Parties one year after it is ratified by seven-eighths of the States Parties.
Any amendment to articles 5, 6, 7, or 8 of the Statute (the crimes) only enters into force for States Parties that have ratified the amendment. A State Party which ratifies an amendment to Articles 5, 6, 7, or 8 is subject to that amendment one year after ratifying it, regardless of how many other States Parties have also ratified it. (Article 121(5)) For an Article 5, 6, 7, or 8 amendment, the Statute itself is amended after the amendment comes into force for the first State Party to ratify it. (Article 122(2))
 Polly Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet, 2010 (2nd Ed 2015), pp. 61- 92. See also her second book, Earth is our Business, 2011.
 Preamble, Rome Statute.
 See iecc-tpie.org, who are calling for an International Criminal Court for the Environment.
 See icecoalition.com and see also the International Court for the Environment Foundation.
 ‘Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime Against Peace’ Summary Document setting out the history of Ecocide law. First published in 2012 and updated in July 2013. See: SAS Ecocide Project
 See Chapter 6, Polly Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet, 2010 (2nd Ed 2015), pp. 72 – 92.