Climate crimes must be brought to justice

In December 2019, at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Vanuatu’s ambassador to the European Union made a radical suggestion: make the destruction of the environment a crime. Catriona McKinnon, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, has proposed that “international criminal law should be expanded to include a new criminal offence”, which she calls postericide.

“It is committed by intentional or reckless conduct fit to bring about the extinction of humanity. Postericide is committed when humanity is put at risk of extinction by conduct performed either with the intention of making humanity go extinct, or with the knowledge that the conduct is fit to have this effect. When a person knows that their conduct will impose an impermissible risk on another and acts anyway, they are reckless. It is in the domain of reckless conduct, making climate change worse, that we should look for postericidal conduct.”

ENDS reports that “efforts to criminalise serious environmental harm have taken a leap forward as three European countries signalled they would discuss the idea at a political level”.

Over the past few months, the governments of France, Sweden and Belgium have all announced they would seriously consider supporting attempts to criminalise “ecocide”.

In June 2020, French president Emmanuel Macron said he would examine how the principle of ecocide could be incorporated into French law after nearly all participants in the country’s citizen’s assembly on climate recommended it should be criminalised nationally.

In autumn 2020 the Belgian government followed suit, saying it would consider recognising a crime of ecocide in domestic and international law, and the Swedish parliament announced that it would discuss criminalising ecocide.

Sweden’s Olof Palme was the first head of state to refer to mass destruction of nature as “ecocide”, at the 1972 UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, and to declare that it “requires urgent international attention”.


Compiled by Reinhold Pape


ENDS, Isabella Kaminski, 06 Nov 2020,

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