FAQ Ecocide

Here you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions on Ecocide. To display the answers please click on the down arrow visible to the left of the question.

What’s Ecocide?

Essentially, ecocide is the extensive damage to or destruction of ecosystems which is devastating people’s lives all around the world. The proposed legal definition is: Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

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When can we speak of ecocide? How many felled trees? What quantity of polluted river water? Is the pollution of the ozone layer considered ecocide?

Ecocide is defined as the destruction of or significant harm to an ecosystem. In ecology, an ecosystem describes a unit composed of communities of living organisms and their environment (biological, geological, edaphic, hydrological, climatic, etc…). The elements that constitute an ecosystem develop a system, which exchanges both, matter and energy, allowing life in the system to be maintained and to develop. A law on ecocide acknowledges the essential role of ecosystems in maintaining life, and allows humans to be restored to their rightful place as a link in the living chain rather than its manager.

In existing law, each element contributing to life is more or less protected: air, soil, endangered species, flora and fauna; however, the legislation regards each element independently. With an ecocide law, it is no longer a matter of accounting for, using the previous example, how many trees have been felled in the Amazon rain forest, but rather of studying the consequences of this deforestation based on several criteria:

  • Is the enjoyment of the peaceful life of its inhabitants, both human and non-human largely affected? – Crime of ecocide
  • Have the rights to life of the non-human inhabitants been disregarded? – Crime against nature
  • Have the rights to human life been disregarded? – Crime against humanity
  • Have the culture and lifestyles linked to this environment been threatened? – Cultural ecocide (ethnocide)
  • Has the life of future generations been affected? – Crime against future generations
  • Is peace threatened by a degradation of living conditions? – Crime against peace

Under the proposed draft directive, a study must be carried out to assess the size, the duration and the impact of the damage, destruction or loss of an ecosystem. It is for the court to decide what the size, duration or impact of such a destruction is, in order to define it as an ecocide (Only one of the three conditions must be met).

In order to take this decision, the court can refer to an existing law, such as the United Nations Convention on the Prohibition military or any hostile use of environmental modification techniques (1977), which specifies the terms «widespread», «long-lasting» and «severe» as follows:

(A) Large scale: an area of several hundred square kilometres;

(B) Long-lasting: For a period of several months, or approximately a season;

(C) Severe: causing serious disturbance or significant damage to human life, natural or economic resources, or other aspects.

There is no definite list of ecocides. It may help to think about it in terms of the definition of GBH – grievous bodily harm. There’s not a long list saying that if someone punches you 4 times, that’s GBH, but 3 times, it’s not. It depends on the effects of the punch on the person. The same applies to ecocide: it depends on the damage done to that particular ecosystem and each case needs to be assessed individually.

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What is the timeframe when the destructive activity has to have taken place in order to count as ecocide? Can years of polluting an ecosystem from different small sources also be considered as ecocide?

This depends whether or not we can still establish a causal link between the activity (the individual act) and the outcome (the ecocide we are looking at). We cannot give absolute answers in law – decisions are made on a case by case basis taking all the facts into consideration.

The time frame is determined by the prosecution – and this depends on how it is charged. It can run from when the event occurred to a set date (e. g. an oil spill over 6 months). If it’s a substantive offence (the actual offence), it runs from date before to date after. If it’s an inchoate offence (e.. g a conspiracy date) it runs from a date before the agreement was formed to any date after the agreement was either reached or completed. It can run from date of which it came to attention (eg ecocide is reported – eg birds dead on toxic tailing pond) or run action from date from which created (eg date toxic tailing pond was built, rather than date birds landed on it and died).

Rather than list examples of what is and what would not be considered to be ecocide, the aim of establishing the law is to create a sea-change in decision-making in order to ensure that human activity does not create extensive damage and destruction to ecosystems. The idea is that going forward we create different systems in order to achieve our aims.

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What is the difference between Polly Higgins’ Eradicating Ecocide campaign (Wish20) and the European Citizens’ Initiative “End Ecocide in Europe“?

Polly Higgins is campaigning for Ecocide to be added to the Rome Statue as the 5th Crime Against Peace and therefore to be implemented as an international law. The ECI “End Ecocide in Europe“ aims at a Europe-wide law (directive) only. However, this will still have worldwide implications, as it will also apply to activities outside of the EU by EU-registered companies or individuals and will also prohibit the import of any goods or services resulting from activities causing ecocide into the EU. End Ecocide in Europe sees the European law as a first step for the larger aim which is an international crime of ecocide.

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Who is liable for Ecocide? Can ordinary people be accused of ecocide when buying products related to ecocide?

In our proposal, liability for committing ecocide is based on principle of superior responsibility (it’s a known term in criminal law). This means heads of banks, corporations or even governments can be prosecuted for ecocide, if their company caused ecocide or was involved in funding it, since they are actually the ones taking the decisions on activities that may or may not cause ecocide. It is essentially down to the prosecutor to decide who to prosecute. Both, individuals and companies can be held liable for Ecocide.

Consumers won’t be prosecuted for commiting ecocide. Actually, the aim of our proposal is create a situation where it will be easier for consumers to make environmentally friendly decisions, since production patterns themselves need to change.

Currently, existing directives recognise and apply the hierarchy of responsibility only to individuals whose intention of personal gain has been demonstrated, and not to government officials, public administrators or international organisations.

The ecocide directive recognises the responsibility of individuals based on the principle of superior responsability, whoever they are, even if the acts were committed without intent and thus removes impunity. Government leaders and CEOs may then be charged for ecocide.

It also recognises the responsibility of those who have acted as accomplices, facilitating or subsidising an ecocide by advising or subsidising hazardous activities. Financial institutions can thus be held accountable, as well as environmental consultancies.

The goal is to empower entrepreneurs, governments or bankers not to accept – regardless of the pressure from shareholders or lobbies – to invest in dangerous industrial activity. They will offer their skills and invest their funds in companies who respect the legal framework laid down by the Directive. This will accelerate the energy transition by offering it the means to succeed which is currently lacking.

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Is investment included in Ecocide?

Yes, because when you fund criminal activity (ecocide), you will be “aiding and abetting” a crime, which opens the door to prosecuting investors and senior bank officials.

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What’s the current status of Crimes Against the Environment? And how is the proposed Ecocide Directive different?

There are many multilateral environmental agreements. Most of the legislation just imposes fines for non-compliance instead of making it a criminal action to commit ecocide. That’s why many companies just factor the fines they will have to pay for not complying with existing legislation into their business plans instead of refraining from destroying the environment. The Ecocide Directive could make it illegal to commit Ecocide in EU territories, as well as for EU registered companies operating overseas and any EU national living or working overseas to commit Ecocide in the EU or elsewhere. It could also make it illegal for an “associated person” to an EU registered company operating overseas to commit Ecocide. This means that a EU company would have to eradicate ecocide from its supply chain completely.

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How is the Ecocide Directive different from the existing EU legislation (Environmental Liability Directive and Environmental Crime Directive)?

The existing directives are “softer“ than the proposed Ecocide Directive in many ways. Some examples:

  • The Ecocide Directive also applies to EU citizens and European enterprises operating outside the EU. Goods and services resulting from activities causing ecocide will be banned from import into EU territory. These measures will prevent a relocation of European companies seeking to circumvent the law.
  • The Environmental Crimes Directive proposes only criminal penalties, while the Ecocide Directive allows warrants for arrest which can result in imprisonment.
  • The Environmental Crimes Directive applies to air, soil, water, animals, plants, waste, dangerous substances, habitats within protected sites only, while the Ecocide Directive applies to whole ecosystems and their ability to function (exchange matter and energy).
  • The Ecocide Directive provides for the establishment of a mechanism for restorative justice on which the court will be able to rely in order to evaluate and direct the redress and site restorations, commission independent impact assessment studies and decide to suspend current dangerous operations.
  • The Ecocide Directive no longer considers the risk factor as the unit of measurement but the severity of the consequences. Thus the danger of a technology will not be measured in terms of the risk of resulting disasters (probability), but according to the extent of damage in the event of a disaster. The risk of a “Fukushima” is minimal; the consequences of the Fukushima disaster are immense. The Directive therefore asks the leaders to evaluate their different strategic choices and to assume, through their work, not their intentions, their responsibilities in these choices made on behalf of their company, their government or their financial institution.

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The definition states that ecocide could also be naturally occurring, how is the directive addressing this issue?

The ecocide definition states indeed that ecocide can also be caused natural forces not only human activity. For example extensive forest fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. It is included in the definition with the intention for duty of care, which means that communities suffering from naturally occurring ecocide will be given proper help. Duty of care means that nations will be held legally accountable for helping those who have been or are at risk of, subjected to naturally occurring ecocide. Secondly, in so doing, emergency relief will become a legal requirement.

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What does non-human right to life mean? There is no such concept in existing EU legislation.

The ecocide directive recognizes the right to life of nature including plants and animals as it recognizes the role of ecosystems to maintain life on earth. This kind of concept exists in law in Bolivia and Ecuador for example. Up to now, when a court had to evaluate the breaches of crime following an environmental disaster, it was calculating the fines according to the economical losses faced by the human communities affected. The ecocide directive grants the Court the legal power to order full restoration of an ecosystem upon a finding of guilt for the crime of Ecocide. Evidence brought to the court in support of a prosecution could include an expert on wildlife protection, analogous to a Guardian Ad Litem giving evidence on behalf of a child in a case where the rights of a child are being addressed.

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Can also people who did not want to commit ecocide and might not have known about it be prosecuted and face imprisonment?

Yes. This is what makes the Ecocide law so much more powerful than existing law. The draft Directive is drafted to establish a crime of consequence, not a crime of intent. This is because it is understood that most businesses do not commit Ecocide deliberately. Like most international pollution laws, a law of Ecocide is what is known as a ‘strict liability’ law. In other words, it is the consequence that determines the crime not the intent. This is important as it recognises that most businesses do not deliberately cause Ecocide.

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Can an Ecocide law work?

  • Yes – a mock trial held in the Supreme Court of the UK demonstrated that a law of Ecocide can work in practice. You can watch the full Mock Trial on youtube or get more info about the trial here: http://eradicatingecocide.com/overview/mock-trial/
  • The Crime of Ecocide was going to be included as the fifth Crime Against Peace in the precursor to Rome Statute (which sets out the existing four Crimes Against Peace), in the draft document for 11 years before being withdrawn despite numerous countries supporting it. You can read more about the history of a law of Ecocide in the research paper „Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace“ undertaken by The University of London’s School of Advanced Study here: http://www.sas.ac.uk/node/1033
    You can read about their Ecocide Project also here: http://www.sas.ac.uk/hrc/projects/ecocide-project.
  • There is already an international crime against the environment during war time (see Article 8(2)(b) of the Rome Statute) – but in the final draft of the Rome Statute the name of Ecocide was removed and it was removed completely as a Peace Crime during peace time.

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Are there examples of Ecocide law working?

Currently there are 10 countries that have an ecocide law but we don’t know how effective these are. The University of London’s Ecocide Project is researching the effectiveness of Ecocide Laws in the ten countries. More information on the ten countries’ laws of Ecocide.

Vietnam is probably the best example because it was introduced out of the devastating experience of the Vietnam war. Actually the Vietnam war was also one of the reasons why ecocide is today a crime in war time (Art 8.2. Rome Statute) and not in peace time.

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What will the impact of the law of ecocide on business be?

In almost every country, businesses are rising to the challenge of moving from being the cause of mass damage and destruction to becoming the solution; renewables, next generation technologies and innovation is evolving in a very different direction. What stops these businesses from becoming mainstream is the lack of a global law that prioritises investment to flow into activities that have minimal or no adverse impacts on both people and planet. They all face the same challenge: of becoming mainstream without a global legislative framework which prioritizes their business. Subsidies and governmental policy today does not support the green economy, and voluntary measures do not break the glass ceiling. Quite simply, there is no level playing-field. Investors do not have long-term signals; instead investment flows into old established technologies rather than new and governments are unable to implement policy that is not backed by an international legal framework.
Without a global legal framework that closes the door to dangerous industrial activity and opens the opportunity to widespread support, governments, investment and business cannot get out of the deadlock. Despite all the efforts of so many companies, almost all ecological limits are being pushed off the chart.
Currently there is no legislation in place to make it mandatory for business to be low carbon, resource efficient, socially and ecologically positive. What this means is that businesses that prioritise improved human and ecological well-being, while significantly reducing their environmental risks and ecological impact, is unsupported.
The Law of Ecocide is a law that will change the rules of the game. As set out in Polly Higgins, second book, Earth is our Business: changing the rules of the game, the number 1 rule that governs most business is to make profit without consequence. That law worked for a long time; now we have the knowledge that many business practices are causing mass damage and destruction. Often there is no intent; mostly the ecocide caused is secondary to the activity undertaken. To make a business case for a law of Ecocide, three things must happen: 1.create a level playing field for all; 2. give an appropriate transition period and 3. give the opportunity for industry to change on an international level.
A law of Ecocide will help business that has ambitious ecological targets. Business that has a bold sustainability vision stands to benefit greatly from a law of Ecocide by removing the current restrictions to green business at source. By creating a law that prohibits ecocide, business is given a new rule that supercedes existing law – law that has failed to prevent adverse consequences at the highest level. Ecocide law creates a pre-emptive ‘think before you act’ provision; it creates a legal requirement to put people and planet first. When that happens, businesses that have a strong sustainability agenda will be able to fulfill their purpose.
The draft directive includes a transition period, which is suggested to last 5 years. Global economies will be given the legislative framework to create resilience and stability as well as security of long-term investment streams. In addition, as new businesses are invested in and scale up, existing businesses will shift their primary occupation to come in line with pending new law. This will initiate a wave of innovation and investment across the world, developing market practices to solve environmental problems whilst enabling the flow of money into pioneering solutions that are scale-able. It will develop an entrepreneurial global society: social innovators will thrive as they tackle emerging and persistent problems; existing businesses will respond well to a law that opens the door to other markets and new opportunities. As a result, long-term investment streams from both private and public which have become widely available, redirect the flow of money into new business practices and old that are willing and able to innovate, mobilise fast and scale-up.
A global economy built on a law of Ecocide can be our future. A law of Ecocide has the potential to unlock the current crisis, put in place a very different road-map and build in a new vision. The impact of continuing business as usual on our economies, our security, our jobs and our futures is our business – the world is in our hands. What we decide to do next can be a powerful changemaker for all of our futures; all it needs is one law to trigger the transformation to a green economy. This is our legacy.

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Any other questions?

If you still have questions on the initiative, please don’t hesitate to contact info@endecocide.eu

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3 comments on “FAQ Ecocide
  1. Leo Cheung says:

    I can’t find a counter on your website.
    It would be good to know how close to the 1m signatures you are.

  2. Sabine Häberli says:

    Ich würde gerne unterschreiben, bin aber Schweizerin :-( Was tun?

  3. DELPIT says:

    Bonjour
    Après avoir passé 15 m à remplir la pétition, impossible de conclure : caractères illisibles, message sonore en anglais débité à grande vitesse.
    Est-ce pour limiter le nombre de participants.
    Cordialement
    Norbert

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