COP26 make Ecocide a crime against humanity

David Attenborough, in his opening speech, said that “humans are the greatest problem solvers on this planet”. If we got ourselves into this mess, we can damn right get ourselves out. For fear is debilitating, but fear coupled with hope and action, becomes a recipe for change.

As the leaders of the world and leaders of the future tune into and make their way to the 26th Climate Conference of the Parties – you cannot deny the pull towards hope and away from despair. Yet, this does not mean we can be complacent, every single one of us must monitor what has been promised, and that it is delivered.

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate noted in her recent book ‘A Bigger Picture’ that species are going extinct at a rate greater than the time of the dinosaurs. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados spoke of the death sentence to island nations in her opening COP26 speech to the world.

One powerful solution to prevent a continuous bloody chain of damage to people and planet is to criminalise ‘ecocide’ and get it recognised in international law so that every single citizen can hold a company or a government to account for starting and continuing with the extraction of fossil fuels from a finite planet, killing people, species, ecosystems, and habitats.  The word ‘Ecocide’ describes exactly that: the mass damage and destruction of the natural living world.  It literally means “killing one’s home”.

From the dry-corridor in Central America to the veins of the Ganges deltas, Bangladesh’s most vulnerable low-lying lands where 30% of the population live, to climate–exacerbated conflict in the Sahel, to flooding increasing exponentially. Nine major cities could be underwater by 2030 if we do not drastically change society now. We are in a man-made crisis.

And right now, in most of the world, no one is held responsible.  It’s time to change the rules.  It’s time to protect our home.

Everyone should know the word ‘ecocide’ by the end of COP26, especially the biggest polluters on our planet, the 20 companies – the Chevrons, Exxons, BPs and Shells of this world – who are responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. If ecocide were to become law, winning cases against these massive companies will be possible.  

Ecocide law will be preventative, as well as offer accountability. Environmental lawyers will be able to cite ‘ecocide’ when holding a company or government to account. Let’s take the North Cambo oil field, as an example. If ecocide was recognised in law, company’s would not be able to start new fossil fuels projects like oil fields, as we now know that oil fields harm the surrounding ecosystems and future generations resulting in ecocide.

The campaign to make ecocide a criminal law is not a new one. ‘Stop Ecocide’ was the brainchild and life’s work of the incredible late Polly Higgins, lawyer and activist. Today, lawyers, campaigners, and activists are taking up Polly’s work to once and for all get ‘ecocide’ into the law books as a lifeline for humanity and vulnerable ecosystems on our precious blue planet.

Along with political, diplomatic and economic initiatives, the law has a role to play in transforming our relationship with the natural world, shifting that relationship from one of harm to one of harmony. We have been taking, consuming for too long. Let’s be the gatekeepers, the problem solvers.

Let’s, together, put an end to ecocide and help the natural world on our planet heal.

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