Ecocide: The 5th Crime Against Peace

Ecocide: the extensive destruction, damage to 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 severely diminished.

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk last week at my university by the inspirational lawyer Polly Higgins. She is spearheading a campaign to make the mass destruction of ecosystems a crime against humanity, equal to other crimes (e.g. genocide, crimes against humanity) answerable to the International Criminal Court.

The campaign is gaining rapid support including within the United Nations and EU Commission. The aim is to push the law through at the Rio Earth Summit 2012. Her ideas were influential in Bolivia’s new laws to protect the environment, known as The Laws of Mother Earth (see here). Polly described the two contrasting ways to view the natural resources and ecosystems that we inhabit:

A mock trial held at the UK Supreme Court recently found the CEOs of oil companies involved in the Athabasca tar sands guilty of ecocide. For those that don’t know, the project has been described as the ‘worst environmental crime in history’. Producing crude oil in this way is proven to produce four times more carbon dioxide than conventional drilling and is threatening to completely ruin forests the size of England and Wales combined.

“Once upon a time people did grievous harm to the environment without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. That defence is no longer available, and that sure knowledge we now have entails equally sure moral obligations. In this context, the idea of establishing the crime of Ecocide is both timely and compelling”

Jonathon Porritt, former Chair, Sustainable Development Commission.

It is time that those responsible for projects such as these are held fully responsible.

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