Polly Higgins, environmental lawyer and barrister, founder of the Eradicating Ecocide campaign

Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create targets for sustainable development. I applaud the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goals, they are our starting point. To make these aspirations a reality, international law that places people and planet first is necessary to establish a level playing field for everyone around the world. Achieving this requires a commitment to outlawing destructive business practices and creating laws that prioritises green, clean, and life-enhancing business. One law that does just that is my proposal to make Ecocide a crime. [http://www.eradicatingecocide.com/thesolution/].


ecocide250In April 2010, I proposed the concept of an Ecocide law to the UN, and the law has now been drafted. An Ecocide Act was tested in a mock trial [http://www.eradicatingecocide.com/the-trial/] at the Supreme Court in London, England in September 2011, which allowed a team of lawyers to examine the application of the proposed law before it is enacted. The mock trial was an opportunity to iron out any issues before the Act is adopted by nations across the world. The first step is to commit to amending the Rome Statute to include a 5th crime: Ecocide. This will create a level playing field in which all companies are legally bound to ensure that the consequences of their activities are examined before deciding to act. Under the law, CEOs and Heads of State will be personally responsible for any extensive environmental damage that arises out of their decision making. A law of Ecocide is an upstream solution. By turning off the tap at source, companies stand to gain. It is far more cost effective to pre-empt damage and destruction than to shore it up in the aftermath.

The Zero Draft document for Rio+20 states: “We view the green economy as a means to achieve sustainable development, which must remain our overarching goal.” Making Ecocide a law at Rio will put in place the foundations for our global green economy. According to the most recent estimates set out in the 2010 TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) report [http://www.teebweb.org/InformationMaterial/TEEBReports/tabid/1278/Default.aspx], the cost of destruction to the planet, by the top 3,000 corporations, was US$2.2 trillion in 2008. However, fines to defray the damage do not work. A law of Ecocide will shift corporations away from ‘polluter pays’ to ‘polluter does not pollute’. We view the Rio+20 as the most important meeting of Heads of State for 20 years; a moment in history when world leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the Earth. Under an Ecocide law, the world can opt-in to a law that places people and planet first.

From the case of banning CFCs in the 1980s, we know that industry can quickly change direction when given the right regulatory framework. Industry resisted the Montreal Protocol [http://www.unep.org/ozone/pdf/Montreal-Protocol2000.pdf] because they said that it was too challenging to find a replacement for CFCs in their products – however history demonstrates that industry flourished and new solutions were found.

The aim of Ecocide law is not to punish, and indeed I advocate a period of amnesty: a time when governments work with industry to actively facilitate them turning around. This is a route-map to quickly deliver a green economy.

A responsible economic system is not the only thing an Ecocide law can deliver. It is also a viable alternative to the failing climate negotiations. The Kyoto Protocol has failed to deliver anything substantial, at the crucial time when action to reverse man-made climate change is much needed. Climate scientists tell us that to keep global warming below 2°C and thereby prevent catastrophic climate change; new laws that prohibit dangerous industrial activity are required. A law that closes the door once and for all, to the sorts of activity that places human life at risk of injury or harm due to rising emissions.

To make Ecocide law a reality at Rio is also possible. We cannot shy away from the realties that we are facing today: rising sea levels, climate change, poverty, and increasing risk of loss of human life. All of this can be rapidly abated by one amendment to the Rome Statute [http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Legal+Texts+and+Tools/Official+Journal/Rome+Statute.htm].  To do so will enable both the transition to a green economy and the protection of people and the Earth. I wonder: Who are the leaders that will be remembered for making Ecocide a crime by our future generations?