What is ecocide, and why might it be criminalized worldwide?

Intentionally harming the planet could be discussed in the same international court that tries war crimes.

After months of deliberation,  a group of international legal experts unveiled a new legal definition of “ecocide” in June. The definition, if adopted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), would put environmental destruction on a par with war crimes and would pave the way for the prosecution of world leaders and corporate chiefs who knowingly use environmental destruction for their own gain. 

The panel of 12 legal experts formally termed ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” They propose adding this to the  “Rome Statute,” a permanent treaty-based international court, which would make it official international criminal law that can be tried for in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes that are of concern to the international community, for example, war crimes.

If successful, ecocide would be prosecuted to the same level as other major crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity. For this to happen, Any one of the ICC’s 123 member states can propose ecocide as an amendment to the Rome Statute. After their proposal, the court’s annual assembly will hold a vote. 

Aerial view of a burning area of Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, on August 16, 2020. (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP) (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP via Getty Images)

For a crime to fit the bill, the environmental damage would have to be irreversible or unable to be fixed naturally within a reasonable timeframe, Aljazeera reported. Environmental damage under the definition would include “the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere, as well as outer space.” One well-known example is the negative long-term effects of Agent Orange, an herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War decades ago that has proven to be the culprit of health outcomes and has even caused birth defects.  (cont)

Source: Popular Science