Agreement Reached: EU to Criminalise Severe Environmental Harms “Comparable to Ecocide”

ENVIRONMENT, 27 Nov 2023

Stop Ecocide International - TRANSCEND Media Service

Summary:

  • EU has agreed to create new offence that aims to punish the most serious crimes against the environment. 
  • New law aimed at preventing and punishing “cases comparable to ecocide”.
  • Landmark decision comes after months of negotiation between the European Council, Commission and Parliament and reflects the European Parliament’s recommendation earlier this year to tackle “ecocide-level crimes”.
  • Text will be formally adopted in the coming months, but the all-important political agreement has been reached.
17 Nov 2023 – The EU has agreed to enshrine in law a new offence that aims to punish the most serious crimes against the environment.

On Thursday [16 Nov] afternoon in Brussels, the European Union approved the strengthening of its ‘directive on protection of the environment through criminal law’. The directive will now include provision to directly address specific severe cases of ecosystem destruction including habitat destruction and Illegal logging.

While the operative text steers clear of including the actual word “ecocide”, the EU has clearly taken strong note of the text proposed by the European Parliament earlier this year to tackle ecocide-level crimes¹, as well as the growing number of ecocide bills already proposed and progressing both in Europe and around the world.

European Parliament members including Marie Toussaint (6th from left), Virginijus Sinkevicius (4th from right) and Antonius Manders (6th from right, who led the Parliament’s side of the negotiations).

The final text emerged on Thursday following several months of negotiation (“trilogues”) between the European Council, Commission and Parliament considering, inter alia, the establishment of a “qualified offence” aimed at preventing and punishing the gravest environmental harms including, as the accompanying recitals specify, “cases comparable to ecocide”.  The text will be formally adopted in the coming months, but the all-important political agreement has been reached.

The European Parliament’s suggested text had followed a unanimous Legal Affairs Committee vote in March 2023, proposing that ‘Member States shall ensure that any conduct causing severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible damage shall be treated as an offense of particular gravity and sanctioned as such in accordance with the legal systems of the Member States.’

This closely follows the proposed definition of ecocide as an international crime drafted by an independent panel of experts convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation in 2021², a definition which has triggered rapidly growing government, legal, academic and media interest around the world.

The final text from the EU is in alignment with the spirit of the international definition, and is the first time that a legislative text at the European level has recognised mass destruction of nature as criminal in and of itself.

The public appetite for recognition of ecocide / ecocide-level crimes is unquestionably present and growing.  A coalition of politicians, NGOs and civil society has been campaigning for its inclusion in the directive for over a year, with an online petition organised by WeMove Europe and Avaaz receiving over 617,000 signatures³.

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Jojo Mehta, Co-Founder and CEO of Stop Ecocide International, said:

“We are thrilled to see this result. The approved text is a hugely important  step and a massive win for nature, significantly strengthening environmental protection through criminal law throughout the EU.

“The European Parliament showed true leadership in March by championing a strong text, and negotiations with the Commission and Council have resulted in a Directive which will genuinely assist member states in treating environmental harms much more seriously.  

“This is highly significant and to be wholeheartedly commended, and we can see from the rapidly growing momentum of the ecocide law initiative that European states will not be long in engaging more deeply with it in their own jurisdictions.

“Indeed, I have no doubt that with this direction of travel being rapidly established, it is only a matter of time before ecocide is recognised in criminal law at every level.”

 

Marie Toussaint MEP, who played a central role in negotiations, said,

“The adopted text can open a new age of environmental litigation in Europe, because we have obtained a fundamental victory which should extend beyond our borders. In the European political context, this text is a point of support for all those who defend the environment in court and fight the impunity of criminal firms who too often flout the laws and work today to unravel environmental democracy in Europe. 

“Environmental crime is exploding around the world, it is now considered just as lucrative as drug trafficking, and is helping to destroy living conditions on earth. With this agreement, the European Union adopts some of the most ambitious legislation in the world. We will continue to fight so that we can never again harm living things in the name of profit. It is now essential that EU Member States propose an amendment for the inclusion of standalone crime of ecocide in the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.”

 

Giulio Carini, Communications Manager at WeMove Europe, said:

“We’re one step closer to stopping the destruction of our planet. With today’s proposal we’ve secured a text that paves the way to ensure we can protect nature through criminal law. This progress is a result of people-powered pressure — after more  than 600,000 people across Europe have asked the EU to make ecocide a crime.”

This year ecocide bills have been proposed or are progressing in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Stop Ecocide International believes each newly proposed ecocide bill sends a signal to EU policy makers that there is genuine political and cultural appetite for meaningful legal action aimed at preventing and punishing the most severe harms to nature.

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