The Business of Ecocide

Melanie Vella interviews British lawyer Polly Higgins to discuss the implications of implementing a law that places a duty on international business to protect the Earth.  


“Business and the environment should be able to co-exist together,??? says Polly Higgins, international lawyer, barrister and award-winning author who has been working on a law to protect the Earth – the Law of Ecocide.

Higgins visited Malta recently to meet H.E. Mrs Marie Louise Colerio Preca, business owners and hold public talks on the value of having a law whereby corporations and companies can be held accountable for the destruction of the planet.

What if business could become much more innovative? What if competitiveness depended on a business’ ability to turn harm of the environment into harmony with the environment?

Ecocide involves the poisoning of river, tropical deforestation or the chaos caused by climate change. Higgins and her team campaign to challenge powerful business interests, to stop them from causing damage to the environment with no regard for the consequences they are causing.?

Currently we are faced with global challenges of ecocide, where natural ecosystems are being wiped out. Such as the deforestation, oil spills and the poisoning of rivers and water systems. Issues which affect us all. Higgins’ solution is to declare environmental destruction illegal. “The Law on Ecocide creates a legal duty of care that holds persons of ‘superior responsibility’ to account in a court of law, both criminal and civil. The inclusion of Ecocide law as an international law prohibits mass damage and destruction of the Earth,??? explains Higgins.

The purpose for creating the offence of Ecocide is to put in place an international law at the very top level. These crimes are the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole and supersede all other laws. I think this needs to come after you explain the Rome statute..

 “We need to question why business has come to the point where it is destroying a fundamental part of the resources that sustain it – the environment,??? says Higgins.

A law of ecocide creates a legal duty where private and public capital is invested into emerging technology providers.? not directly Governments will also have the legal duty to prioritise technologies and solutions that drive environmental improvements as the primary economic growth strategy. Are you sure they have the duty? Businesses will then be enabled to move into a green economy and invest in these solutions and innovation is driven by competitiveness in this field.

Mining is an example of an industry based on old-fashioned technologies that are very heavily reliant on high levels of energy usage. The coal mining industry uses very aggressive processes, blasting rocks and engaging in very harmful practices to extract the rare minerals from the land and in the process you displace communities and pollute their soils.

This can be fundamentally changed. “I met the head of a mining consortium who was in favour of implementing the law on Ecocide. Until such a law was implemented he would not have the competitive advantage needed to convince shareholders to invest in new minimally invasive practices,??? explains Higgins.  (need to explain link further?)

Higgins has submitted a proposal to the United Nations to open an amendment to the 1968 Rome Statute to include a fifth crime against peace in the international criminal court – the International Crime of Ecocide.

This will require two-thirds of the statute’s signatory States to transpose the law.? The International Criminal Court will have the power to intervene, even if the person or State involved is a non-signatory. The Rome statute is one of the most powerful documents in the world, and it is where the current laws against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are legislated against.

This is a much easier approach than that of climate change where 194 nations are required to agree on targets to re-engineer their economies and cut consumption.

The implementation of the Law of Ecocide would have a fundamental and required change in the way business is conducted.

Currently, businesses have a legal duty to prioritise the interests of their shareholders first. The maximization of profit overrides all other interests. However, with the introduction of Ecocide law, persons and companies are held responsible for serious environmental damage caused by their commercial activities.

“The normative way of doing business will flipped,??? says Higgins.

“This will change long-term investment signals. Investors will no longer engage and invest in ventures that cause harm and destruction of the environment in the interest of profit, as they can be held liable for Ecocide in the International Criminal Court.??? Currently, investors refrain from investing in activities, which cause Genocide, like the manufacturing of gas chambers, even though this would yield high profit margins. It will be illegal to invest in an activity causing Ecocide.

“Implementing this law would make it illegal to invest in activities, which cause mass destruction to the Earth as a corollary of dangerous industrial activity,??? she explains.

This would mean that investing in fossil fuel would be considered a high-risk investment, while investing in renewable energy would be a valuable, low-risk investment.

“BP, one of the world’s supermajor oil and gas companies, back in 2005 wanted to change their name to Beyond Petroleum. Lord Brown, CEO of BP, wanted to shift the company from fossil fuels into renewable energy. He couldn’t enforce this for a number of reasons the most prominent being that because it is an international company, there is no international law that would prioritise the innovation in this direction and make it a crime to carry out these significantly harmful activities. The shareholders had the legal right to demand that the company carries on capitalizing on the larger profits from fossil fuel.??? BP never managed to make this shift.

“The Ecocide law is providing the support of law to allow businesses to change. The problem then becomes the solution. Currently, big energy companies can’t do this because it will affect their bottom line in the short term. And legally the interest of shareholders is prioritized which is that of maximizing profits.

Those who are in conscious businesses and want to make decisions that consider the well-being of people and the planet and allow profit to be generated from this aspect, have a vested interest in  seeing this law come to fruition. Is this law required? “We know that businesses are causing significant harm. We know that the Climate Change negotiations are not highly successful,??? explains Higgins. There is evidence that the environment is being destroyed. “The answer is then yes it is required because Ecocide is occurring and it is not sustainable.???

“The International Legal community see this law as the next inevitable big step that law has to take.  Many countries  require Ecocide law to be put in place, countries like Small Island States. Their voices are not being heard at the Climate Change negotiations so they are pro actively engaging in this debate

“Malta should rally behind this law to stop naturally occurring Ecocide to protect the increasing threat of pollution of the water tables,??? says Higgins after discussing her campaign with various agricultural specialists in Malta. “There would also be a reform in farming practices, moving away from industrialised farming practices that are heavily reliant on herbicides and pesticides and moving toward to permaculture, organic solutions and building up biodiversity back on the island.???

This law is in the process of being drafted. Many academic institutions are using Higgin’s book ‘Eradicating Ecocide’ as a course book – law schools, environmental studies and business schools.

It is just a matter of time until a law against ecocide is as natural to us as the law against genocide now is – the only question is how much of our natural resources will we lose until we say ‘enough! No more!’


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