11 Mar 2022

The price of ecocide: Govt urged to support criminalisation

6:24 pm on 11 March 2022

A conservation group is calling on the government to push for mass environmental destruction, or ecocide, to be declared a crime by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Brazillian rainforest being removed to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations. (File photo).

(File photo) Brazilian rainforest being removed to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations. Photo: 123rf/ Richard Whitcombe

Ecocide would join the court's four core crimes, which include crimes against humanity and genocide.

If passed, it would mean individuals could be investigated for carrying out intensive coal mining or deforestation.

Stop Ecocide is a global movement pushing to have ecocide added to the ICC and has 19 branches world-wide.

The term was first used in 1971 to describe Agent Orange's mass defoliation of trees during the Vietnam War.

New Zealand branch co-leader and marine scientist Lyndon DeVantier said ecocide encompasses all forms of environmental degradation.

"The legal definition in draft form is: 'unlawful or waton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts'."

DeVantier co-leads Stop Ecocide NZ with Brigid Inder OBE who said now was the time to make those harming the environment take personal responsibility for their actions.

"I think people are also moving into a more personal and deeper sense of connection and care for the natural world and the environment. The time has come for us as humanity to move towards a greater sense of connection with and consciousness of our impact on the natural environment as one species amongst many."

Ecocide could help reduce the effects of climate change, Inder added.

"We think the crime of ecocide could assist in curbing the worst practices that are having a disproportionate effect on climate change and ecosystem collapse and it could do that by holding those most responsible for those activities accountable."

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Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said there were potential examples of ecocide in our own backyard.

"Certainly there are cases...if one thinks of what has occurred up on the Buller coal plateau - the line call decision to allow mining at Denniston; the Mount Augustus decision that allowed essentially the functional extinction of the giant carnivorous land snail."

Auckland University environmental law expert Klaus Bosselmann said New Zealand's laws did not go far enough to preserve the environment - including the country's new plans for carbon emissions.

"Environmental laws so far really have not addressed the environmental damages - in fact, they are all too weak.

But even the specific Emissions Reduction Plan, from what we know, is far from ensuring actual compliance and liability of companies and people - it's just a plan. So it's not really enforceable."

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands Photo: AFP

Bosselmann would like to see a change in how environmental harm is handled.

"Environmental offences are covered by the Resource Management Act (RMA), but they are really not effective and not used properly by local authorities," he said.

"People really should be aware that this is not just a minor offence... deforestation, cutting trees without a permit and so forth is actually a crime. A crime of ecocide would address this."

If ecocide is put forward to the International Criminal Court by one of its 123 members this year, its inclusion could be voted on as early as December.

If accepted, the process of complete inclusion could take anywhere from two to 10 years but Stop Ecocide hope it will be sooner rather than later.

More than 20 countries have already expressed support for the move, including Belgium, the UK, France and Vanuatu - but not New Zealand.

Stop Ecocide is still waiting for a response from the government.

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