Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Time to outlaw ecocide

We live in a time of historic ecological crisis, with the Earth on the verge of dangerous levels of anthropogenic climate change, threatening the ecology, food supplies, world peace, and the habitability of some of the most densely-populated parts of the planet. And while this is going on, some people are trying to actually make it worse for their own profit. Now, a group of laywers and diplomats are working to make that a crime in international law:

Legal experts from across the globe have drawn up a “historic” definition of ecocide, intended to be adopted by the international criminal court to prosecute the most egregious offences against the environment.

The draft law, unveiled on Tuesday, defines 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 being caused by those acts”.

The Stop Ecocide Foundation initiative comes amid concerns that not enough is being done to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

If adopted by the ICC’s members, it would become just the fifth offence the court prosecutes – alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression – and the first new international crime since the 1940s when Nazi leaders were prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials.

This is something New Zealand should support. The environment needs protecting, and those who have worked to destroy it need to be punished. And for grave crimes of ecocide, an international venue is appropriate where national governments refuse to act. As for the definition, "wanton acts committed with knowledge" would seem to cover most fossil fuel executives and those profiting from deforestation, which seems entirely appropriate.

But beyond supporting this as a change in international law, New Zealand should also take steps to criminalise it in domestic law as well. Ecocide is a crime even if the international community refuses to recognise it. And it is time we treated it as such.