How a growing movement is considering putting ecocide on a par with war crimes – .

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How a growing movement is considering putting ecocide on a par with war crimes – .


A hiker walks among winding canals carved by water on the surface of the melting Longyearbreen Glacier during a summer heat wave over the Svalbard archipelago on July 31, 2020 near Longyearbyen, Norway. Global warming is having a dramatic impact on Svalbard which, according to Norwegian weather data, includes an increase in average winter temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius over the past 30 years, creating disruption throughout the local ecosystem.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A campaign to criminalize acts of widespread environmental destruction is gaining momentum.
Ecocide, which literally translates from Greek and Latin as “killing our home,” is an umbrella term for all forms of massive damage to ecosystems, from industrial pollution to the release of microplastics into the oceans.

The term has been debated by academics, climate activists and legal professionals for over half a century. However, it is only in recent years that the idea has become more and more widespread, with Pope Francis, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and French President Emmanuel Macron all endorsing the movement to recognize the ecocide. as an international crime.

Today, a team of lawyers specializing in environmental law is working on its definition. A panel convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation will publish the legal definition of ecocide on Tuesday, seeking to pave the way for the incorporation of acts of environmental destruction into the mandate of the International Criminal Court. He could see ecocide establishing itself alongside war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in The Hague.

“There have been working definitions in the past, but this is the first time that something has been called globally and in response to a political demand,” said Jojo Mehta, co-founder of the campaign. Stop Ecocide, on CNBC by phone.

“What it shows is that there is space in the political world to consider a solution like this. This conversation is no longer falling on deaf ears and, in fact, it is gathering momentum at a fairly rapid rate, ”said Mehta. .

How did we get here?

The term ecocide was first coined in 1970 to characterize the massive damage and destruction of ecosystems, although it remained on the fringes of the environmental movement for decades thereafter.
It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later that a campaign to make ecocide an international crime will celebrate its biggest public breakthrough to date. That moment came as the small South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu addressed the ICC’s Annual Meeting of States Parties on December 2, 2019.

“We believe this radical idea deserves serious discussion,” said John Licht, Vanuatu’s ambassador to the European Union at the time. The appeal was quickly taken up by the government of Maldives.

The climate crisis poses an existential threat to the island states of Vanuatu and the Maldives, with both countries facing the imminent prospect of losing significant amounts of land due to rising sea levels. that caused the rise in global temperatures took place almost entirely elsewhere.

It is a declaration that we have come to a point where we must stop destroying the planet.

Rachel Killean

Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen’s University Belfast

Supporters of the Stop Ecocide campaign argue that a stand-alone law to punish decision-makers at the highest level is needed in order to create “a moral red line” to widespread environmental destruction.

“There are encouraging signs. You wouldn’t have believed how quickly the ecocide has broken out over the past two years, ”Rachel Killean, senior lecturer in law at Queen’s University Belfast, told CNBC by telephone.

“I think there are still huge political barriers because ecocide impacts powerful states, but I wouldn’t have predicted that we would be where we are today. So there is potentially enough background waves around environmental issues for us to see it come to fruition. ”

Why is it important?

Supporters of the Stop Ecocide campaign say there are a number of advantages to recognizing the term in international criminal law. These include expanding international accountability and deterrence, opening the door to increased rights of nature, access to reparations, and a better public understanding of the scale and extent. scope of the ecological crisis.
Members of Extinction Rebellion hold a banner reading ‘Make ecocide a crime’ in Parliament Square on August 28, 2020 in London, England.

Peter summers | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“If we had an ecocide, it could mean that you could potentially prosecute environmental crimes without needing to be linked to widespread human atrocity. You could also prosecute environmental crimes that occur in peacetime – that’s a different way of looking at what atrocity looks like, ”Killean said.

“It is a declaration that we have come to a point where we must stop destroying the planet. The people who are destroying the planet are actually quite a few and are causing massive damage to our home and communities around the world with their actions. So there must be something to say that you can’t do this anymore. Ecocide is potentially one of them, ”she added.

What about the challenges facing the law on ecocides?

There are a number of potential stumbling blocks. International criminal law would only apply to individuals, for example, raising the question of whether the ICC’s recognition of ecocide can indeed have a significant impact on business practices.

It is also believed that some states are unlikely to be willing to place themselves at a perceived economic disadvantage by applying criminal sanctions at the national level.

Additionally, if ecocide were criminalized, countries would not be required to ratify the ICC ruling and there are several states with a large environmental footprint – such as the United States, China, India and Russia, between others – who are not parties to the Rome ICC Law.

A man paddles a boat as plastic bags float on the water surface of the Buriganga River in Dhaka on January 21, 2020.

MUNIR UZ ZAMAN | AFP | Getty Images

Mehta of Stop Ecocide argued that a transitional period would help alleviate some of these concerns and noted that the ICC has broader applicability than one might think, with non-members being able to be referred through the Council of UN security, for example.

When it was suggested that ecocide should not be seen as a “quick fix” to eradicate environmental destruction, Mehta replied, “I think that’s absolutely correct … there is a pressure point here. “

“Right now, if you campaign for human rights and social justice, at least you know that mass murder and torture is beyond pallor. They are criminals and they are doomed. But, if you’re in the environmental arena, you don’t have that. You stand on a void. A fundamental piece is missing that says so much damage is just not allowed. “

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “Ask any environmentalist and we’ll tell you. “

Mehta said that while the law on ecocides is probably not sufficient to deal with the crises that have arisen in many areas of the environment, “it is necessary”. She estimated that it would take four to five years to put the law on ecocides into practice.

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