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Law of Nature

March 30, 2019 - 18:23 -- Admin

Those who destroy the living world should be charged with the international crime of ecocide

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th March 2019

Why do we
wait until someone has passed away before we say how much we honour them? I
believe we should overcome our embarrassment, and say it while they are with
us. In this spirit, I want to tell you about the world-changing work of Polly Higgins.

She is a
barrister who has devoted her life to creating an international crime of ecocide. This
means serious damage or destruction of the natural world and the Earth’s
systems. It would make those who commission it – such as chief executives and government
ministers – individually and criminally liable for the harm they do to others, while
creating a legal duty of care for life on Earth.

I believe
it would change everything. It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing
anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves, “will I end up in
the Hague for this?”. It could make the difference between a habitable and an
uninhabitable planet.

There are currently
no effective safeguards preventing a few powerful people, companies or states
from wreaking havoc for the sake of profit or power. Though their actions might
lead to the death of millions, they know they can’t be touched. Their impunity, as they engage in potential mass murder,
reveals a gaping hole in international law.

Last week,
for example, the research group InfluenceMap revealed that the
world’s five biggest publicly-listed oil and gas companies, led by BP and Shell, are
spending nearly $200m a year lobbying to delay efforts to prevent climate
breakdown. BP has successfully lobbied the Trump
government to overturn laws passed by the Obama administration to prevent
companies from releasing methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – into the
atmosphere. The result – the equivalent of another 50 million tonnes of CO2 over
the next five years – is to push us faster towards a hothouse Earth.

Hundreds
of dead dolphins are currently washing up on French beaches, often
with horrendous injuries. Why? Because trawler companies fishing for seabass
are failing to take basic precautions to prevent them from being caught. The dolphins
either drown in the nets or, when pulled up wounded, are stabbed to death (to
make them sink) by the fishermen. For a marginal increase in profits, the trawler
companies could be driving common dolphins towards regional extinction.

In West
Papua, which is illegally occupied by Indonesia, an
international consortium intends to clear, without indigenous people’s consent,
4000km2 (the size of Somerset) of stunning rainforest, to plant oil palm. Its
Tanah Merah project is ripping a hole in the largest expanse of pristine forest
left in Asia, swarming with species found nowhere else. According to an investigation by Mongabay, if the scheme
continues, it will produce as much greenhouse gas every year as the state of
Virginia.

When
governments collaborate (as in all these cases they do), how can such
atrocities be prevented? Citizens can pursue civil suits, if they can find the
money and the time, but the worst a company will face is a fine or compensation
payments. None of its executives are prosecuted, though they may profit enormously
from murderous destruction. They can continue their assaults on the living
planet.

Suits
against governments, such as the successful case against the Dutch state, seeking
a legal order to speed up its reduction of greenhouse gases, may be more productive,
but only when national (or European) law permits, and when the government is
prepared to abide by it. Otherwise, at international summits, where the
perpetrators share platforms with the states that should hold them to account,
we ask them nicely not to slaughter our children. These
crimes against humanity should not be matters for negotiation, but for
prosecution.

Until
1996, drafts of the Rome Statute, that lists
international crimes against humanity, included
the crime of ecocide
. But it was dropped at a
late stage of drafting at the behest of three states: the
UK, France, and the Netherlands. Ecocide looked like a lost cause, until Polly
Higgins took it up ten years ago.

She gave
up her income and sold her house to finance this campaign on behalf of all of
us. She has drafted model laws to show
what the crime of ecocide would look like, published two books on the subject, and, often against furious opposition,
presented her proposals at international meetings. The Earth Protectors group she
founded seeks to crowdfund the campaign. Recently
she has been working with Vanuatu with a view to tabling an amendment to the Rome
Statute, introducing the missing law.

Last week, Polly
was diagnosed, at the age of 50,with an aggressive cancer that has already spread
through much of her body. The doctors have told her she has six weeks to live.
Given her determination, and the support of those around her, I expect her to
defy the prediction, that she has met with amazing fortitude. “If this is
my time to go,” she told me, “my legal team will continue undeterred. But there
are millions who care so much and feel so powerless about the future, and I
would love to see them begin to understand the power of this one simple law to
protect the Earth, to realise it’s possible, even straightforward. I wish I
could live to see a million Earth Protectors standing for it – because I
believe they will.”

She has
started something that will not end here. It could, with our support, do for all
life on Earth what the criminalisation of genocide has done for vulnerable
minorities: provide protection where none existed before. Let it become her
legacy.