How can international law be a part of the climate change solution?
The focus on environmental degradation alongside the effects of climate change has led to increasing demands from international lawyers, scholars, and members of the public to help solve these issues through international law.
Through these discussions, the proposal of making ecocide an international crime is gaining momentum.
What is ecocide?
The concept of ecocide is an idea that is attracting attention from government leaders like Emmanuel Macron alongside environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg. Advocates of the proposed crime claim that it would help hold those most accountable for environmental destruction to account.
But ecocide is not a new idea. The concept of the crime was first initiated in 1970 at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington by Professor Arthur W. Galston, who proposed a “new international agreement to ban ecocide” due to the United States’ use of the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Though previous attempts to make ecocide a crime factored in on States, recent statements from the international criminal court and advocates of the crime zone in on corporations and CEOs as facing liability. If successful, it could hold big polluters to account.
Who can commit ecocide?
Corporations have carried out acts that would constitute ‘ecocide’ if the term was legally applicable, but they have no obligations under international human rights law, so have never faced repercussions for their activities. Examples that demonstrate ecocide include Chevron’s activities in Ecuador and Shell in Nigeria. Yet there are issues with incorporating environmental rights with human rights as the focus on the individual tends to ignore the environment.
Who is fighting against ecocide?
To combat this issue, the Stop Ecocide Foundation and Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide go one step further and have defined the crime as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts''. The Stop Ecocide Foundation is the organisation behind the global movement to make ecocide an international crime.
Why isn't ecocide illegal?
All international crimes are part of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). So to make ecocide an official crime, the Rome Statute would have to be amended and ratified by the state parties to the Statute. But there are weaknesses in this approach too as the companies most likely to commit ecocide are registered in countries that are not parties to the Rome Statute. Many fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron are based in America, and as the US is not a member of the ICC, the chances of these companies being held accountable are slim. It is an issue that the ecocide campaign seems to understand as they have stated that the symbolic impact of having the concept recognised as an international crime would act as a deterrence for leaders and CEO’s.
Why should it matter to you?
At the moment, the legal route to holding major polluters to account is unsatisfactory. Making ecocide an international crime could help change this. All member state parties to the Rome Statute who ratify the law would have to include it in their own domestic legal system.You can support making ecocide an international crime by signing the international petition: https://www.stopecocide.earth/become. Other options to support making ecocide an international crime can be found at the Stop Ecocide International website.
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