Human progress is no excuse for destroying nature. A push to make “ecocide” a global crime must recognize this basic truth
Scientists recently confirmed the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, due to uncontrolled combustion and deforestation. It brings the crucial ecosystem closer to a tipping point which would see it replaced by the savannah and trigger accelerated global warming.
This is not an isolated example of nature damaged on a large scale. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed this month that global warming is now affecting all continents, regions and oceans on Earth. This includes Australia, which is global deforestation hotspot and where the Great Barrier Reef is heading virtual extinction.
In the face of such horrors, a new international campaign calls for “ecocide” – the killing of ecology – to be considered an “international”super crimeIn the order of genocide. The campaign has drawn prominent supporters, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
Making ecocide an international crime is an appropriate response to the gravity of this evil and could help prevent massive destruction of the environment. But that will depend on how the crime is defined.
The destruction of the Amazon fueled the push for a new international crime of “ecocide”. Green peace
Definition of ecocide
The global campaign is led by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. Last month, an independent legal panel advising the campaign published a proposed amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This would make ecocide a crime, defining it as:
illegal or indiscriminate acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial probability of serious and widespread or long-term damage to the environment caused by such acts.
Defining a new international crime is a delicate balance. He must:
- understand the seriousness, nature and extent of the harm
- establish appropriate standards of proof, but not impossible
- set moral standards that other international laws should follow.
The draft definition marks an important step towards placing ecocide on the international agenda. And it does a good job of defining and balancing the core elements of ecocide – “severe” and “widespread” or “long-term” damage to “any part of the environment”.
It is laudable that these foundational elements show a concern for the integrity of ecosystems, the human rights to a healthy environment and how serious damage to ecosystems can have devastating local consequences. and planetary consequences in the future. This is a significant achievement.
The proposed definition of ecocide is wrong. ITSUO INOUYE / AP
Towards an ecological approach
A major concern is that the proposed definition considers only “illegal” or “without cause” acts to be ecocidal.
Under the proposed definition, lawful acts are only ecocidal if they are “without cause” – defined as “a reckless disregard for harm which would be manifestly excessive in relation to the expected social and economic benefits”.
This condition assumes that some ecocidal damage is acceptable in the name of human progress. According to the panel, these “socially beneficial acts” could include the construction of housing estates and transport links.
We are not saying that we should not build housing, transport links or farms. But, at one time, some scientists called the sixth mass extinction, they cannot be done at the expense of critical species and ecosystems. Sustainable development must respect this border.
The hypothesis also fails to recognize the seriousness of the ecocide. Such compromises – formally known as “waivers” – are rejected by international conventions governing slavery, torture, sexual violence and basic human rights.
For example, the Convention Against Torture States:
no exceptional circumstance whatsoever, be it a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other state of emergency, may be invoked to justify torture.
An international crime of ecocide must meet a similar standard. It should recognize that all forms of life and the ecological systems that support them have value in themselves.
Human well-being is linked to the thriving ecosystems of the Earth. Shutterstock
Genocide – the annihilation of human groups – is recognized as a crime against humanity. As a political philosopher Hannah arendt argued, genocide is an attack on human diversity that erodes the “very nature of humanity” and poses a problem. serious threat to world order.
Likewise, the definition of ecocide should recognize that acts that destroy biological diversity and lead to species extinction threaten the very nature and survival of Earth’s multispecies community.
In Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, the Balkans and more recently Burma, millions of people have been killed and dispersed under a crime against humanity known as “ethnic cleansing”. Yet this murder and scattering is happening in non-human communities as of this writing. The vast habitat destroyed by deforestation is as important to displaced animals as our homes are to us.
And it is a shared calamity. The massive destruction of the environment is an attack on the foundations of all life that constitutes the biosphere, of which humanity is only a part.
The loss of a part of nature damages all life on Earth, including humanity. Ben Curtis / AP
What should be done?
The Stop Ecocide Foundation said the proposed definition will now be “made available to States for consideration”.
In doing so, we must work towards a definition of ecocide that puts non-human lives at the center. The crime of ecocide must be defined in a way that honors its victims – the countless beings of Earth.
Waiting for, political efforts halting the destruction of biodiversity must become an urgent global priority. And citizens can pressure their governments to criminalize the green acts that have become the status quo.