Ecocide – which literally means “killing the environment” – is an idea that seems both impossibly radical and eminently reasonable. The theory is that no one should go unpunished for destroying the natural world. Campaigners believe the crime should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which can currently prosecute just four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
While the International Criminal Court can already prosecute for environmental crimes, this is only possible within the context of these four crimes – it does not place any legal restrictions on legal harms that occur during times of peace. While individual countries have their own rules and regulations to prevent such harms, ecocide campaigners argue that mass environmental destruction will continue until a global law is in place.
This wouldn’t be the fluffy and arguably toothless rulemaking that often emerges from international processes – such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, where countries set their own emissions reductions targets. By adding a fifth crime of ecocide to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the perpetrators of environmental destruction would suddenly be liable to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.