Where there is a will there is a way

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ask the Expert - Polly Higgins - on a new international law against 'ecocide'

From Good magazine (NZ) Issue 22, Page 16:

The Earth’s Attorney

The times are a-changing and one London legal beagle thinks it’s time to give the planet more teeth. Simon Day drops in for a chat with environmental lawyer and barrister Polly Higgins.I first met Polly Higgins as a journalist interviewing her for a story. I left an hour later a member of her campaign team. What's so compelling about her idea?

Seven years ago, working as a corporate lawyer, Polly felt she was fighting for things she didn't believe in. She was more concerned by what was happening outside the courtroom and felt the earth needed an advocate. "Environmental law as it stands is not fit for purpose," she says.

So Polly brought legislation to the United Nations that would make "extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems" an international crime against humanity. If successful, ‘ecocide’ would become the fifth crime against peace – and like genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity, liable from prosecution at the International Crime Court.

In September 2011, Polly was involved in a high-profile mock trial at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The defendants - found guilty on two of three counts - were chief executives of a hypothetical fossil fuel company charged with ecocide crimes similar to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the extraction of Canada's tar sands.

Closer to home, if ecocide was recognised by law, then shipping company Costamare Inc's managing director Diamantis Manos could be held directly responsible for the Rena disaster and the damage to Tauranga's Astrolabe Reef.

But the proposed law isn't just to threaten punishment; Polly sees it as sparking a new way of doing business. ''The legislation imposes a 'think before you act' principle," she says. "It makes damn sure you adhere to safety regulations. But it also challenges company directors to question whether the consequences are really worth the risks."

London-based Kiwi Simon Day is completing a Masters in International Journalism,
specialising in the environment

"Today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops."

-Paul Brooks (The Pursuit of Wilderness)

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