BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 29th Mar '14

Exercise your legal right to propose legislation

If you believe that extensive damage to ecosystems should be criminalised, and that the CEOs and senior management of companies responsible should be held accountable, you can exercise your legal right to make it happen by supporting the Ecocide Directive.

‘Ecocide’ is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems of a given territory; it covers all major environmental disasters and essentially boils down to the destruction of our natural environment.

End Ecocide in Europe is an initiative with a simple goal: environmental destruction must become a crime – a crime for which those responsible can be held accountable.

The roots

Ecocide has been discussed since the 1970s as a potential international Crime Against Peace, but was excluded from the Rome Statute. Today the ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment’ (Art 8.2 Rome Statute) is a war crime, but it’s allowed during peace. The End Ecocide in Europe initiative believes it’s time to update the law.

If enough people vote to End Ecocide in Europe, the European Commission, under the European Citizens’ Initiative (which enables citizens to propose EU legislation), will have to consider the proposal. There would also be the opportunity for a public hearing in the European Parliament.

An Ecocide law would mean ‘extensive damage’ or ‘destruction’ of ecosystems would become a crime, so someone committing ecocide would be doing something illegal. No intent is necessary, so companies and individuals could be held responsible for committing Ecocide according to criminal law and the principle of superior responsibility, meaning those in positions of power would be convicted.

The bigger picture

If a company commits Ecocide, the CEO and the senior management would be held responsible, not the average employee. The proposed Ecocide Directive is much stronger than existing EU environmental legislation; in existing law, each element contributing to life is more or less protected: air, soil, endangered species, flora and fauna. However, the legislation regards each element independently.

The proposed Ecocide Directive, to the contrary, does look at entire ecosystems. In ecology, an ecosystem describes a unit composed of communities of living organisms and their environment. The elements that constitute an ecosystem develop a system, which exchanges both matter and energy, allowing life in the system to be maintained and to develop.

By protecting such ecosystems, the Ecocide Directive is much more encompassing than existing environmental legislation. In addition, it shifts the focus away from risks (probabilities) towards consequences. If an activity has potentially devastating consequences, it should be illegal, no matter how small the likelihood that the catastrophe occurs.

Global change

The Ecocide law can contribute to a shift in values where future generations as well as the Earth are given rights and biodiversity is preserved. It has the potential to trigger the transformation to the green economy, towards a way of doing business that places people and planet before profits.

An implemented Ecocide Directive will have worldwide implications. Many of the major companies committing Ecocide are registered in the EU and European pension funds and banks are among the biggest investors in activities that cause Ecocide. Due to the provision prohibiting the import of goods and services resulting from activities causing Ecocide, the law creates a level playing field as anyone wanting to sell inside the EU – a huge market – will have to comply with the rules.

How does it work?

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a directly democratic instrument that was introduced in the European Union in 2009 and has been working since April 2012. It enables citizens to propose EU legislation.

When one million EU citizens from at least seven countries vote for the End Ecocide in Europe proposal, the European Commission will have to consider it and we will have the right to hold a public hearing in the European Parliament. This is much more than a petition; signing an ECI means exercising your legal right as an EU citizen to propose legislation.

The European Citizens’ Initiative was inspired by Polly Higgins, an international lawyer proposing to make Ecocide the 5th Crime Against Peace. Ecocide would thus become illegal worldwide and any breachers of the law could be convicted by the International Criminal Court.

The End Ecocide in Europe initiative is entirely run by volunteers, with neither employees nor a secretariat. It’s a true citizens’ initiative and therefore you can also do your part. Just take it on and speak about it wherever you can, and encourage all your friends and family to sign and spread it in your unique network.