UN plans review of environmental crime

Tom Lawson

Planned study hailed as significant step towards making mass destruction of the environment a crime against peace, while new campaign to end ecocide by 2020 is launched

The Untied Nations is to carry out a study into the definition of environmental crime. The move was announced at the International Conference on Environmental Crime held in Rome in October 2012, which brought together legal experts from around the world to discuss problems with existing environmental law and begin developing an action plan for the future.

The study will be undertaken by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).

According to campaign group Eradicating Ecocide, the study will take into consideration the possibility of making ecocide a fifth crime against peace, alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide refers to any large-scale destruction of the environment, for example mass deforestation or a large oil spill.

Eradicating Ecocide said that UNEP and UNICRI made statements recognising that criminal law, and perhaps an ecocide law, could play a major role in preventing damage and destruction to the environment. The group believes that support is growing for the campaign among officials.

“Throughout the conference it became evident that while there were some experts who were unfamiliar with the proposal to make ecocide a crime against peace, others had been following the issue closely and were very engaged,” said Louise Kulbicki, a lawyer and Eradicating Ecocide representative.

WISH20 campaign

To keep the pressure up on the UN and world leaders to support an ecocide law, Eradicating Ecocide has recently launched a campaign that aims to stop ecocide entirely by 2020.

Called WISH20, it is described by Eradicating Ecocide as “a global citizens initiative,” based on the idea of promoting the kind of world people would like to see in 2020. The campaign enables people around the world to sign up online to show their support for making ecocide a crime against peace.

“It’s about uniting millions of people across the word in their wish to end ecocide,” said Eradicating Ecocide founder, Polly Higgins. “When we do this, we mandate our leaders to make that one very big wish come true.”

The campaign also sets out a timeline of how this can be achieved by 2020. Between now and 2014, one head of state must call for an amendment to the Rome Statute, which sets out the existing crimes against peace. An ecocide law could then be voted on in 2014 and if 81 heads of state vote in favour, it would become international law.

Following implementation of the law, a transition period would occur between 2015 and 2020 whereby all countries and businesses would phase out any activity that could cause ecocide. In the meantime, Eradicating Ecocide aims to collect as many signatures of support as possible by 2014.

Photo title: A rainforst in Laos

Photo credit: © Gnilenkov Aleksey

  • Herb

    Ecocide refers to any large-scale destruction of the environment, for example mass deforestation or a large oil spill. Nuclear waste and nuclear disasters have to be included as well!

  • Gordon Chamberlain

    Meanwhile PM Stephen Harper of Canada despite repeated correspondence about the threat pose by ecocide (10 ) times since 2009 had failed to respond. Is this how ecocidal political leader conduct the business of state. We have to realize that just as Europe’s royalty, politicians, business and religion leaders once thought slavery and colonialism were good business models. Today it appears that political leaders view ecocide, the large scale long term damage or destruction of our environment as a acceptable business model. Worse we have to come to realized that the destabilisation of our planets climate is an act of ecocide.
    Are our politicians colluding with ecocidal radical fundamentalist capitalists?
    Are they capable of ecocide?
    Is the toxic legacy of Shell in the Niger delta ecocide?
    Is the toxic legacy from the British Petroleum toxic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico ecocide?
    Is the toxic legacy of Chevron/Texaco in Ecuador ecocide?
    Is mountain ecosystem destruction from coal mining ecocide?
    Is plundering fish (Cod, Blue Fin Tuna, and Sharks) ecocide?
    Is the toxic legacy, ecological destruction and carbon footprint in the Tarsands of Alberta Canada ecocide?
    Is mountain ecosystem destruction due to coal mining ecocide?
    Is the species that profited from the atrocities of slavery and colonialism capable of profiting from ecocide?

    Prosecuting ecocide is now being debated in international legal forums. On the 7th 2012 The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the creation of the International Advisory Council for the Advancement of Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability consisting of 7 supreme court judges, the EPA chief Council and Canada Commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=2700&ArticleID=9350&l=en
    What has your political leaders told you about ecocide?
    The US Federal Advisory Committee released the Draft Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Review on Jan 11 2013 http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/
    A 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee” or NCADAC) has overseen the development of this draft climate report.
    Global warming is already having a major impact on life in America, a report by US government scientists has warned. The draft version of the US National Climate Assessment reveals that increasing storm surges, floods, melting glaciers and permafrost, and intensifying droughts are having a profound effect on the lives of Americans.
    Many citizens are not aware of the threat posed by ocean acidification
    In addition to changing climate, carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning has a direct effect on the 35 world’s oceans. Carbon dioxide interacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, lowering the 36 ocean’s pH. Ocean surface waters have become 30% more acidic as they have absorbed large 37 amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ocean acidification reduces the capacity of 38 marine organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium carbonate (such as corals, krill, 39 oysters, clams, and crabs) to survive, grow, and reproduce, which in turn will affect the entire marine food chain (Ch. 2,8,23,24,25).
    In response to these dire warning politicians intend to permit the petroleum corporations to massively expansion of climate destabilizing emission from the tarsand and in the US. Is this how ecocidal corporations behave.
    The destabilization of our planets climate must be viewed as a threat to national security, human mental physical, spiritual, environmental, economic effort to living sustainably and act of ecocide.
    As such political leaders who are acting with criminal negligence in dealing with global climate destabilisation should face prosecution for failing to address threats to national security, our future?
    As a result the campaign has begun to have ecocide recognized as the fifth crime against peaces and subject to prosecution under the mandate of the International Criminal Court.
    This campaign is lead by Polly Higgins a UK lawyer and author of Eradicating Ecocide laws and Governance to Prevent the destruction of our Planet, The earth is our Business and supported by over 9000 individuals growing number of social and environmental NGO and politicians.
    If living sustainably is important to you
    Join Eradicating Ecocide http://eradicatingecocide.com/
    Share this campaign on your network
    Sign the petition
    Write your political rep, Prime Minister, President and the media and ask does global climate destabilization pose a threat to national security, should it be recognized as ecocide and what they intend to do about it.
    Gordon Chamberlain
    Eradicating Ecocide Canada

  • Nigel Reading

    Rio+20: 10Steps 2 Sustopia via new Asynsis principle-Constructal law ToE and P2P Crowdsourced DemAgoracia

  • Caroline

    Can we get destroying canada’s first nations reserves classed as a crime ? or how about just criming destroying canada in search for oil ? – search tar sands issue

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