Wish 20: End Ecocide by 2020, their copyright.

Ecocide – The 5th Crime Against Peace

Have you heard of ecocide?

Global Initiative Eradicating Ecocide – chaired and founded by international barrister Polly Higgins – defines ecocide as:

The extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

A very important turn of phrase here is inhabitants  – the term includes animals as well as people, thus protecting biodiversity.

Wish 20: End Ecocide by 2020.

Wish 20: End Ecocide by 2020.

Polly Higgins succinctly remarks in her TED talk that “the Earth is desperately in need of a good lawyer” and that’s exactly the role she’s been fulfilling these past few years. And yet she isn’t the first to see this need. Actually, the term ecocide has been used (if not properly defined until recently) since at least 1970. After year’s of drafting, the international  law against ecocide almost made it into the Rome Statute. With mass global support, it was included in the document right up until the last minute. For some mysterious reason, it was removed from the final draft with only a watered down trace sitting in another section. It is a war crime to consciously cause extensive, long term and severe damage to your opponent’s local environment. Even this is often not enforced. Contrary to the drafting of the Crimes Against Peace, the destruction of ecosystems is completely legal during peacetime.

In fact, not only is it legal, it’s what our global economy currently depends on.

The Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) fully support the drive to make Ecocide the 5th Crime Against Peace, as it was meant to be when the document was put together in 1996. They say that:

With strict enforcement, businesses would make the necessary adjustments to comply with the new legal framework. If accompanied by subsidies to facilitate the transition to a new business model, the law of ecocide prevention has the potential to trigger a transition to a different sort of economy — one that operates in harmony with the ecosystem.
(Womack, Lelkes and Merz, 2013, steadystate.org).

It’s certainly a very inspiring possibility. If ecocide – the destruction or severe damage of ecosystems – was made illegal, then corporations would be forced to clean up their act, and innovation would be drawn towards clean technologies, minimizing waste, resource efficiency and habitat restoration. It’s true that corporations often manage to operate above the law, but as an international Crime Against Peace, ecocide would trump national law and decision makers responsible for causing ecocide, like CEOs, would be put on trial in the International Court of Law. They would be held personally responsible. ‘Environmental externalities’ would cease to be an excuse for widespread destruction leading to vast profits.

So how can such a thing be done?
The existing 4 Crimes Against Peace are genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. The governing document is the Rome Statute. For the Statute to be edited, one head of state has to call for amendment, and then a further 80 heads of state have to agree. If this happens, then there will be a 5 year transition period before the new Crime Against Peace is enshrined in law. This is meant to give corporations and governments time to adjust to the coming change and restructure their practises so they sit within the new law.

In 2010, Polly Higgins presented a draft of the law against ecocide to the United Nations. Since then she has been working tirelessly to raise the profile and garner support throughout the international community. 81 heads of state is a big challenge, but it is possible and within reach, especially as many nations are sick of being ravaged by environmental destruction – including the effects of climate change.

Many public figures have endorsed the law of ecocide, including heads of NGOs, politicians and lawyers. What we really need of course is political support, but raising public awareness and support is great too, as it can influence democratic leaders.

I’m really inspired by this work, as I agree with CASSE that it has the potential to kickstart a sustainable economy. If you think it’s a good idea, then please check out Eradicating Ecocide’s extensive list of things you can  do to help. Many of the actions are easy and simple, such as signing this petition on Avaaz. Please take a look.

The Earth desperately needs strong legal protection.
A sustainable economy will continue to be an unfeasible pipe dream while environmental destruction is legal and fines are negligible.
When it becomes illegal and uneconomic, a sustainable economy will be inevitable.

7 thoughts on “Ecocide – The 5th Crime Against Peace

    1. Wow, thank you Lois that’s so lovely of you. It means a lot. I’ve commented on your post about it as well. x

  1. Tegan, I hope this does get passed into law, I don’t believe it will end all problems of corporate polluting and destruction but it’s the first step to being able to bring those doing the damage to court to be accountable for their actions. My only concern is that this will not have the teeth to prosecute some of the worst offenders. Reading the list of the 4 Crimes against Peace, I see war crimes and aggression on there. By all accounts the attacks on Iraq alone should have some heads rolling, but that isn’t happening.

    The worst part is that if all people had a moral compass this wouldn’t be an issue. Those in corporate positions of power would be more concerned for the world they are leaving behind and would clean up their act. It’s a shame the only way to fix this is to make actions punishable.

    1. Yes, it’s fantastic but there’s no silver bullet. Ecocide refers to the destruction or severe damage to whole ecosystems – so pollution would still be legal, just not on such a large scale.
      The things with morals is, it’s currently law for corporations to place profit before any other consideration. The law needs to be changed to allow business people who do have some morals to act on them – and to force those who are ethically vacant.
      There is of course the risk of corruption and low enforcement. But getting it into international law is a huge step.

  2. Brilliant Post and reading it I too am inspired, lets hope those in power within the legal system who care can get together to help stop those who also wield power in the their own domain of Big Business. For its the Big Corporations who stand to block such laws being past.. As its often them who stand behind the Law makers and governing bodies of the world.. Using their Power of the Pockets to talk!..

    Sending you my regards and well wishes

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading my post and thanks for commenting! It’s true the big corps will try to block this. But what’s quite encouraging is the law doesn’t require 81 rich Western countries to sign, it’s just any countries. So I think the Eradicate Ecocide initiative is targeting nations that are already being damaged by ecocide and wish they could have a legal framework to protect themselves from it. Also, if 81 heads of state sign it, it will automatically become international law everywhere. So even though my prime minister will probably never even consider signing, if it went ahead it would overpower his own stupid laws. Polly has the right idea, going straight to the global level like this.

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