Businesses should be liable for the harm they do. Polly Higgins has launched a push to make ecocide an international crime
Illustration by Eva Bee
Why do we wait until someone has passed away before we honour them? I believe we should overcome our embarrassment, and say it while they are with us. In this spirit, I want to tell you about the world-changing work of Polly Higgins.
She is a barrister who has devoted her life to creating an international crime of ecocide. This means serious damage to, or destruction of, the natural world and the Earth’s systems. It would make the people who commission it – such as chief executives and government ministers – criminally liable for the harm they do to others, while creating a legal duty of care for life on Earth.
It would force anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves, ‘Will I end up in the Hague for this?’
I believe it would change everything. It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: “Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?” It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet.
There are no effective safeguards preventing a few powerful people, companies or states from wreaking havoc for the sake of profit or power. Though their actions may lead to the death of millions, they know they can’t be touched. Their impunity, as they engage in potential mass murder, reveals a gaping hole in international law.
Last week, for instance, the research group InfluenceMap reported that the world’s five biggest publicly listed oil and gas companies, led by BP and Shell, are spending nearly $200m a year on lobbying to delay efforts to prevent climate breakdown. According to Greenpeace UK, BP has successfully pressed the Trump government to overturn laws passed by the Obama administration preventing companies from releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The result – the equivalent of another 50m tonnes of CO2 over the next five years – is to push us faster towards a hothouse Earth. MORE