Scientists estimate that emissions from just 90 companies contributed for nearly 50% of the rise in global mean surface temperature since the end of the Industrial Revolution. We have to make the criminal actors destroying our planet accountable. Lawyer Polly Higgins argues that making Ecocide a crime and holding principal actors personally responsible for their actions, is the most effective way to save our planet. Find out more about Mission Life Force here
Polly Higgins is a woman on the hunt. And you get the sense that, after decades of working towards holding powerful polluters to account, her prey may finally be in sight.
“When you’re looking at any crime, you’re looking at who are your suspects,” she tells me in a soft Scottish accent that belies the hard truths she regularly delivers. “Within a corporate context, you’re looking at CEOs and directors. Within a state context, it is ministers and Heads of State.”
“They’re the ones where final responsibility rests for making the decisions that can adversely impact many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and indeed — in the case of climate crime — billions of people.”
Climate activism is surging, with the school strikers chastising older generations for failing them, and Extinction Rebellion hitting headlines with its creative direct actions in the name of “climate justice”.
But Higgins has her own, more institutional approach to what she agrees is a looming climate crisis: making it illegal to deliberately destroy the environment. She is calling for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to recognise ‘ecocide’ as a crime against humanity, alongside genocide and war crimes. She explains:
“There’s a growing recognition that a lot of campaigning is not getting us where we need to go, and just saying fossil fuel extraction should stop is not enough. It has to be criminalised.”
That’s why, in 2010, Higgins proposed an amendment to the Rome Statute — the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. It defined ecocide as “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”