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EU Makes Ecosystem Destruction a Crime

In an historic moment, the European Union has made serious incidents of environmental degradation a crime punishable by imprisonment, setting a global precedent.


Illustration of ecosystem damage
Credit: Pixabay

Marie Toussaint, a French lawyer and MEP, praises the EU’s decision as “one of the most ambitious legislations in the world,” and one that is regarded as a watershed moment. Member states have two years to implement this directive into national law.


Even though the text does not explicitly call the crime ‘ecocide,’ the directive’s preamble refers to offences that are “comparable to ecocide.” Ecocide, defined as “unlawful or wanton acts causing substantial and severe damage to the environment,” is implicitly recognized in the legislation. Proponents claim that this is a significant step toward criminalizing ecocide on a global basis.


The law lists a variety of environmental activities, such as water abstraction, illicit logging, habitat loss, ship recycling, pollution, and the introduction of invasive alien species - essentially, all serious ecosystem degradation.


Crucially, the new law means that any guilty individual, including CEOs and board members, face harsh penalties, including prison sentences of up to 10 eight years. Antonius Manders, a Dutch MEP, notes the significance, stating, “CEOs can risk a fine, but they do not want to be personally involved. They never want to go to jail.”


The discussion around criminalising ecocide has been gathering pace over recent years, and this new directive is viewed as a step towards adding ecocide as a fifth ‘international crime’ after war crimes, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity and genocide.


Indeed, one EU member - Belgium - recently voted in favour of making ecocide punishable at both national and international levels, making the country the first European nation to recognise ecocide under international law.


"There is real momentum growing around the ecocide law conversation at every level currently," says Jojo Mehta, CEO and co-founder of Stop Ecocide International. "I have no doubt we’ll see international recognition in the near future."


 
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