"The earth is in need of a good lawyer.” 🌎Explaining ecocide in memory of Earth Lawyer, Polly Higgins
Climate change, or more specifically the climate and ecological crisis has been brought to the fore in the last few weeks. Whether it’s Sir David Attenborough coming to our rescue again and ending the silence on mainstream media about the urgency needed to turn this ship around, or thousands of rebels around the world peacefully blocking roads and bridges. From local councils to national parliaments, climate emergencies are being declared around the world.
The climate crisis is firmly back on the agenda.
Behind the samba drums, and the arrests grabbing headlines there is a campaign that is gathering force:
Stop Ecocide. 🛑
“ECOCIDE is serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, and includes climate and cultural damage. We believe it should be recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court.”
The face of that campaign for the last 10 years was Polly Higgins, who dedicated her life to bringing this law to life and passed away just last month at the age of 50. It was in the middle of International Rebellion week when more than 1000 people were peacefully arrested in the UK and internationally and a week before her home country, the United Kingdom’s parliament declared a ‘climate emergency’.
Back in 2009 she had a realisation; “The earth is in need of a good lawyer.”
“What if the Earth had rights? What if the Earth had the right to life as well?”
And she realised she wasn’t alone, 370 million indigenous peoples and 380 million Buddhists unstandardised this way of thinking as well, Polly explains in her first TEDx talk in 2012.
Establishing ecocide, would make it the fifth crime against peace. Three that already exist were legalised after World War Two; crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Crimes against aggression was brought in in 2010, “they act as umbrella laws: they cover the whole of the world.”
These current laws protect the wellbeing of human life, adding ecocide would expand it to include all life on Earth.
“It’s a recognition of the interconnectedness of life itself” It would mean changing the way we view the world and bringing it back in line with indigenous peoples and buddhists, Polly states. “Once we see ourselves as guardians we start taking responsibility for future generations, realigning the scales of justice.”
“Realigning with higher law, and natural law says first do no harm. That’s really what ecocide law is all about.”
What would that mean?
If established, lawyers could “Use the law to close the door to dangerous industrial activity.” It would mean those really accountable at the top of the chain, such as Heads of State, Ministers and CEOs would be held “individually criminally responsible for ecocide which they recklessly cause or contribute to.” “It doesn’t just govern corporate activity, but imposes a legal duty of care on all nations to give assistance” when natural ecocide occurs, like tsunamis or rising sea levels.
Environmental expert and campaigner, George Monbiot believes, “It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet.”
Ecocide already has a precedent.
In 1996 it was drafted in the Rome statute, “which lists international crimes against humanity…But it was dropped at a late stage at the behest of three states: the UK, France and the Netherlands,” states Monbiot.
Polly Higgins, and now her team in her memory will continue the campaign. It requires a Head of State to suggest an amendment to the Rome statute. They are currently working with the Republic of Vanuatu.