Plan to put environmental destruction on a par with war crimes

·2 min read
Logging. Aerial drone view of deforestation environmental problem in Borneo
Logging in Borneo: could deforestation be treated in a similar way to war crimes? (Getty)

People or businesses that deforest large areas or contribute to climate change could one day be charged with a proposed international crime called "ecocide".

A panel of lawyers unveiled a definition of "ecocide" as part of a campaign to prevent future environmental disasters by making people legally accountable.

The proposed laws would see polluters and others prosecuted in international court, NPR reported.

"Ecocide" would be added as a so-called "fifth crime" to the four international crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression under the proposal.

The definition was created by the Netherlands-based Stop Ecocide Foundation over six months.

The campaigners hope that one day ecocide could – like genocide and war crimes – be dealt with under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Watch: Extinction Rebellion gather in Madrid calling for ecocide to be recognised as an international crime

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The draft document defines ecocide 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 draft legislation says that ecocidal acts would involve "reckless disregard" leading to ‘serious adverse changes, disruption or harm to any element of the environment’.

The draft document suggests that ecocide suspects should be able to be tried for offences committed anywhere on Earth or even in space.

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Jojo Mehta, chair and co-founder of the Stop Ecocide Foundation, said: "There are elements of human harm that can be included in (the definition), but it also extends to damage, per se, to ecosystems.

“So effectively you're looking at something that has, at least in part, potential to be a crime against nature, not just a crime against people."

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“This is an historic moment. This expert panel came together in direct response to a growing political appetite for real answers to the climate and ecological crisis.”

The authors of the definition want the members of the ICC to endorse it.

Dior Fall Sow, co-chair of the panel, said: “It is a question of survival for our planet.”

Watch: Can seaweed save the climate?