Scientists and lawyers call for ecocide law

22 December 2023 – It is now widely accepted that humanity stands at a crossroads, and with it all life on Earth. Responsible scientists know just how serious the situation is for climate and biodiversity. Responsible lawyers are increasingly supporting those scientists’ call for accountability to be reinforced, to halt the destruction of the natural world.  

Following seminars at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a scientists’ call for ecocide to be made a crime within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (the ICC) has already quickly attracted signatures from leading scientists from all over the world. Together we now call for criminal law on mass damage and destruction of the environment – ecocide law – to be introduced to help guide humanity to a safer future.  

The calls for such a change are gathering momentum. World spiritual leaders of different faiths are on record supporting the initiative. Even in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, President Zelensky’s 10 Point Peace Plan calls for the immediate protection of the environment.  

The revised EU Directive on protection of the environment through criminal law is being negotiated right now. Criminalising ecocide is on the table. The EU Parliament has proposed making ecocide a crime. Where will the negotiations with the European Commission and the European Council take the text?  

In spite of the 2015 Paris Agreement, emissions are still rising year on year and climate change is rapidly getting out of control. The consequences are already palpable: severe storms, floods, droughts and forest fires are reported in the newspapers nearly every day. We have transgressed six out of nine of the recognised Planetary Boundaries and breached seven out of eight of the safe and just Earth Boundaries. As hopeful as we were in 2015, we are not on target for emission reductions by 2030.   

Species are disappearing from the face of the Earth at alarming rates. In 2022, a landmark international agreement on biodiversity was made in Montreal to address dangerous loss of biodiversity and restore natural systems. The goals are great, but will they be met? Our track record is not encouraging: not a single one of the previous targets for protection of biodiversity was fully met. Clearly something more is needed than just agreeing on goals. But what? 

There are already numerous international conventions and treaties that deal with environmental issues. Important as they are, they are not sufficient to address the present challenge. The structural violence that is being done to our planet needs to be nipped in the bud. The tool to do that is Ecocide Law.

Ecocide law gives the opportunity to bridge the gap between what existing legal instruments can reach and what the science is telling us must be tackled. There is now a widespread call for governments to use international law to make the mass destruction of ecosystems –  ecocide – an international crime within the jurisdiction of the ICC in the Hague.  

Current pledges for reduction of CO2 emissions take us to almost 3°C warming by the end of this century. That is a future that we cannot let happen. Ecocide law gives us a very powerful tool to avoid that future: it adds accountability.  

Along with political, diplomatic, and economic initiatives, international law can help transform our relationship with the natural world and change the trajectory of the global community. Making ecocide a crime within the jurisdiction of the ICC would contribute to a change of consciousness: a change that enhances the protection of the environment and supports a more collaborative and effective legal framework for our common future on a shared planet. It offers a new and practical legal tool, one that has been developed by a team of internationally recognized legal experts 

Scientific analysis provides a firm foundation for arguing that this amendment would be crucial for achieving the Paris Agreement as well as supporting an economy within Planetary Boundaries and protecting human rights 

Ecocide law is a way of stopping a future that we do not want and cannot afford to have. It will dissuade humankind from destroying the Earth. In so doing, it will help to deliver a future in harmony with nature. 

Well over 100 scientists from all over the world have already signed the call ´Scientists for Ecocide Law.´ The call is still open and scientists are invited to sign to support the following text: `We, the undersigned scientists, call on governments to collaborate internationally to make ecocide a crime within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.` 

Originally published in The New Scientist.

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