Acts of environmental degradation could soon be classified as international criminal offenses if a newly drafted definition of ‘ecocide‘ is adopted. The drafted definition has been put together by legal minds from around the world under the Stop Ecocide Foundation and with hopes that it will be adopted by the International Criminal Court.

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The draft proposal was unveiled last Tuesday, defining ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment.”

Related: “Ecocide” could soon be punishable by law

The new definition is an initiative of the Stop Ecocide Foundation. It comes at a time when there are concerns that not enough is been done to tackle the climate crisis. The aim is to get the law adopted by ICC member states, consequently forcing leaders of ICC signatory countries to take actions that prevent gross environmental destruction.

If adopted, ecocide would become the fifth offence prosecuted by the ICC alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression.

“The four other crimes all focus exclusively on the wellbeing of human beings. This one of course does that but it introduces a new non-anthropocentric approach, namely putting the environment at the heart of international law, and so that is original and innovative” explained Philippe Sands QC, professor at University College London and co-chair of the panel behind the definition.

Examples of ecocide could include killing protected species, massive oil spills, nuclear accidents and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, among many others.

There have been several attempts to make an ecocide law operational. In 1972, the late Swedish prime minister Olof Palme tried pushing for the concept during the UN environmental conference in Stockholm. Another attempt was made in 1998, when there was a consideration to include an ecocide law in the Rome Statute. More recently, Polly Higgins, a Scottish barrister, is credited with leading a decade-long campaign to get the concept recognized until her death in 2019.

“The environment is threatened worldwide by the very serious and persistent damage caused to it, which endangers the lives of the people who live in it. This definition helps to emphasise that the security of our planet must be guaranteed on an international scale,” Dior Fall Sow, co-author of the draft and a UN jurist said, as reported by The Guardian. “In the current context, where serious damage to the environment is increasingly important and affects a large number of states, their support could be gained for this new definition of the crime of ecocide.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Joanne Francis