Ecocide: Destruction of the environment can soon be a legal crime

by Bharat Duggal

Ecocide: Destruction of the environment can soon be a legal crime

December 9, 2020

The global campaign to establish a law against ‘ECOCIDE‘ – which literally means “killing the environment” – is amassing massive support in recent times. Activists lobbying for this law maintain that no one should go unpunished for destroying the natural world.

So, will the passage of such a law mean that cutting a tree will be considered a legal crime?

Legality of a Law Against Ecocide

Campaigners believe that people should be booked for committing ecocide only in the most severe cases of harm inflicted, encompassing activities such as oil spills, deep-sea mining, and industrial livestock farming. Though the concept of ecocide may sound new to some, the term was actually coined back in 1970 by biologist Arthur Galston at the Conference on War and National Responsibility. The word derives from the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning “house or home,” and the Latin word ‘caedere,’ which means “to demolish or kill.” Ecocide, therefore, literally translates to “killing our home.”

In fact, in 1972, the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme mentioned ecocide while stating the Vietnam War in his opening speech for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment:

Olof Palme
Former Prime Minister of Sweden
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International Crime

Decreasing green cover, massive oil spills, reduced habitat for wildlife – these are just some of the problems that the world is facing. While the twentieth century was marked by both the recognition and creation of a host of environmental problems, the twenty-first century bears the burden of resolving these problems and preventing the emergence of more.

Although individual countries have their own laws and legislations to prevent such damages, ecocide activists warn that mass environmental degradation will continue until a global law is affected. The BBC highlighted that countries such as Vanuatu, a small island state in the South Pacific, have been threatened severely by rising sea levels when the problem has been caused primarily by large, powerful nations and their rising emissions. Thus, even those trying the best to fight climate change and take action are affected by those who carelessly keep damaging the environment.

Polly Higgins, a British barrister, delineated ecocide as “massive damage… to such an extent that harmless enjoyment by the inhabitants of that region has been or will be primarily diminished.”

French Law

The Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat (CCC), which President Emmanuel Macron convened in 2019, is a group of 150 members, selected using randomly generated phone numbers and made up of a diverse group aged between 16 and 80.

The French president set them to define climate actions that would reduce “at least 40 percent of emissions by 2030” with the “spirit of social justice.” The CCC has also demanded ecocide to become a crime in France, suggesting that a referendum should introduce climate protections into French law.

And according to reports by the BBC, more than 99% of the French citizens’ assembly, a group of 150 people chosen to guide the country’s climate policy, voted to make ecocide a crime, after which Macron announced that the government would consult with legal experts on how to incorporate it into French law.

It is high time that crimes against nature be charged with the severity which they deserve.

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