Ecocide as a crime – what could it mean for the Earth?


I recently met Prisca Merz who introduced me to the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) . The ECI’s aim is to criminalise ecocide – the mass damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory. The main idea is that environmental destruction must become a crime for which those in positions of superior responsibility can be held accountable. Prisca Merz is the Director of the ECI. She co-ordinates a dedicated team of volunteers from all over Europe with the mission to gather the EU citizens’ support and required votes for the initiative to succeed.

The proposed Ecocide Directive covers the following five cases:

  • Ecocide committed on EU territory
  • Ecocide committed by EU citizens
  • Ecocide committed by EU companies even when operating outside Europe
  • The import of products resulting from activities causing ecocide into the EU; or
  • The financial investment by EU banks and other financial institutions into activities causing ecocide, no matter where these activities take place

Denying market access for products based on ecocide would mean that the law would have worldwide consequences. Even companies operating outside the EU would not be able to sell their products inside the EU if they resulted from activities causing ecocide, which would create a level playing field. Another important aspect of the directive is that any person in a position of superior responsibility could be held liable, such as the head of a bank, corporation or government. The organisers also recommend a transition period of 5 years in order to facilitate a sustainable economy.

As this could potentially have far-reaching effects on environmental and international law and beyond, I thought it important to raise awareness for the initiative and ideally to spark some discussion. I invite you to answer these questions:

Do you think having an ecocide law will or won’t be effective in protecting the environment? Why?

Could ‘superior responsibility’ provide the necessary deterrent to prevent further large-scale environmental destruction?

Could the proposed law render the fracking debate irrelevant by requiring an accelerated conversion to a low-carbon economy?

There may be strong opinions surrounding the notion of a law of ecocide in ClientEarth and it would be greatly appreciated if you could voice any comments you may have below.

, the full proposed definition of Ecocide is as follows:

Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Potential ecocide cases could, according to the ECI’s website, involve environmental issues such as fracking, the Alberta tar sands and bee colony collapse.

Inspiration for the European initiative came from the UK barrister Polly Higgins’ proposal to make ecocide the fifth Crime Against Peace. As an international crime alongside genocide, any entity or individual committing ecocide could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. While the ultimate aim of the movement is to make ecocide an international crime, the first realistic step is to make ecocide a crime in Europe.

What is required for the initiative to succeed are one million votes by EU citizens from at least 7 EU countries until 21 January 2014. If the ECI is successful, the European Commission will have to consider the legislative proposal and the organisers will have the opportunity to present their cause in a public hearing in the European Parliament.

If you agree that this is a worthwhile cause to support, please sign the ECI and follow End Ecocide in Europe on Twitter (EndEcocideEU) and/or Facebook and spread the word. The organisers of the ECI come from all walks of life, but unfortunately there are only few lawyers involved in the initiative. They would therefore especially appreciate support with legal advice, for example regarding the implementation process of the directive into national laws of the EU Member States. If you would like to get involved in any way, or have any further questions, please let me know or feel free to get in touch with Prisca Merz directly via I am also happy to pass on any further comments or questions from you.


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