Polly Higgins, an international lawyer, the author of Eradicating Ecocide. Ecocide is damage to ecosystems such that peaceful enjoyment of a territory by all its inhabitants is severely diminished or lost. Her goal is to make ecocide, like genocide, a UN-recognized “crime against peace.”
Polly Higgins, lawyer for the Earth, speaks with Silver Donald Cameron in this exclusive Green Interview about the concept of ecocide and how she is trying to make it a new UN recognized crime against peace just like crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Ecocide is damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems such that peaceful enjoyment of a territory by the inhabitants is severely diminished or lost and that includes all the inhabitants not just the human ones.
Higgins defines ecocide as damage, destruction or loss of ecosystems such that peaceful enjoyment of a territory by the inhabitants is severely diminished or lost and that includes all the inhabitants not just the human ones. Higgins says that UN international laws are “super laws” that supersede everything else so that all other laws must conform to them. An international ecocide law would trump the national laws that give the highest priority to profit and would substitute an overriding duty of care for people and the planet. Ecocide clearly is, she argues, not only a crime against peace but also a crime against humanity, against nature and against future generations. Higgins distinguishes between two types of ecocide: human-caused ecocides such as climate change, destruction of forests, etc. and natural ecocides such as tsunamis, rising sea levels, “anything that causes mass ecosystem collapse.” By creating a law of ecocide we can impose a legal duty of care on governments.
The Ecocide Project
Higgins is one of the co-authors of a paper trail amassed by the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. The group found the paper trail that lead to the inclusion and then the exclusion of “ecocide” as one of the five crimes against peace by the UN International Law Commission (ILC). Documents show that early drafts of the document provide definitive reference to ecocide as a crime which was to stand alongside genocide as a Crimes Against Peace—both during peacetime as well as wartime. But in 1993 when ecocide was listed as a Crime Against Peace in the draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind (precursor to the 1998 Rome Statute, which excluded ecocide in the final document), a decision was made to exclude ecocide with only three countries on record as having opposed it, namely the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Higgins has also been a vocal spokesperson on Earth Law for a number of years and is recognized as an expert in her field. She argues that current environmental laws aren’t working to protect the living world because they haven’t been able to protect against the severe degradation we are currently witnessing. Earth law is a particular field of law that aims to ensure that laws protect the inherent right of nature to exist, thrive and evolve. She says the laws that currently supersede environmental protection laws are those that put profit first: a company has a legal duty to maximize its profits to its shareholders. She argues that a law of ecocide would supersede this and impose a provision that makes us look to the consequences of the profit-making activity.