London Blog

The Ecocide Act: should environmental damage be a Crime Against Peace?

What price our planet?

  • War Crimes
  • Genocide
  • Crimes of Aggression
  • Crimes Against Humanity

Four serious offences, certainly, and together known as the “Crimes Against Peace”: the four laws that the International Criminal Court in The Hague was set up in 2002 to prosecute breaches of.

Should Ecocide be the fifth?

That was the topic for discussion at City University last night where Michael Mansfield QC, the well known barrister who has represented, amongst others, the family of Stephen Lawrence, Barry George and Michael Barrymore. But tonight he wasn’t batting for celebrities or victims but an altogether bigger party: the proposed new law of Ecocide.

Ecocide: The extensive damage to, or destruction of, or loss of ecosystem to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants will be severely diminished.

That is the proposed wording of the Ecocide Act: a law proposed by barrister Polly Higgins who presented on her proposal to the UN in April. The Ecocide Act would give the power under international law to prosecute individuals, including the heads of corporations, in breach of the law for damage to the environment. Michael Mansfield explained that there are already various laws in place protecting the environment, but these are national laws only and hence are in many cases subject to political pressures, as, for example, governments have no interest in prosecuting those contributing to their own country’s economic success.

The world is, Mr Mansfield says, in political meltdown. In economic meltdown. And last, but not least, in environmental meltdown. Governments are failing to take decisive action on climate change, he said, citing a report from the Gaia Foundation entitled “Opening Pandora’s Box” which suggested that a new raft of extracting technologies are have pushed us past the point of sustainability with regards extraction and exploitation of resources. An Ecocide Act would allow an international court to prosecute those willfully damaging the environment in this, or other, ways.

Mr Mansfield provided several examples of environmental damage done with the blessing of the government involved; a recent case he cited was the story reported at the end of last year that shale fracking (a new technique for extracting natural gas from rocks) was probably responsible for earthquakes felt in Blackpool. Only this month Canada has been in the news with its work on the oil reserves of Alberta province, large enough to make Canada the world’s second largest holder of oil (after Saudi Arabia) but the subject of much environmental concern.

This is not Ecocide’s first moment in the spotlight. Last year Mr Mansfield was the prosecuting council in a Mock Trial, held at the Supreme Court, in which senior managers of two fictitious companies were put in trial for Ecocide in relation to two real world events: the Gulf Oil spill and the oil mining in Canada mentioned above. The two charged in relation to the Canadian mining were found guilty; the Gulf Oil representative not guilty.

While the trial was merely a demonstration, the idea of an Ecocide Act, Mr Mansfield suggested, is just one of a series of signs that the world is changing. Occupy London. The Middle East uprisings. The work of the family of Stephen Lawrence to bring his killers to justice. All, Mr Mansfield suggests, a sign that now more than ever the people are standing up and realising that we cannot leave our leaders to do the right thing: individuals MUST make a stand for justice and freedom. The Ecocide Act currently being considered by the UN is an attempt by individuals to do just that.

What do you think? Did you attend the Ecocide mock trial? Do you work in an industry potentially affected? Are you a climate researcher? Or simply as a global citizen, do you think Ecocide should be made a crime on a par with genocide? Give us your views below.

You can read more about the Ecocide movement and watch the mock trial on its website. This event was held at City University, London which holds a variety of free, public events.


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