By Ilan Kelman (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO). This article has been edited from its first appearance in the English-language news service for Norway, the Foreigner).
We are killing our ecosystems. Urban expansion, poaching, exploitive fishing, climate change, and persistent pollutants, amongst other human activities, are wiping out species and interfering with biological processes at a terrifyingly rapid rate.
What can we do about it? Eradicating Ecocide aims to enshrine legally another crime against peace under international law.
Ecocide occurs when ecosystems are destroyed or severely harmed by human activity. Ecosystem and biodiversity loss negatively impact all of humanity. Consequently, ecocide is suggested as being the fifth crime against peace, with the other four being genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and war crimes.
The idea has been propelled by Polly Higgins, an international barrister from the U.K. who has won awards for her publications and actions. She proposed to the United Nations in 2010 that ecocide be accepted legally as a crime against peace.
Her work last year included setting up a mock trial at the Supreme Court of England and Wales in which two fictional company executives were tried for their companies’ environmentally destructive actions. They were found guilty, suggesting that a law against ecocide could function in real courts.
The time has come to act against the killing of our ecosystems. Eradicating ecocide requires both prevention and punishment. A law against ecocide is a step towards both.