The Stream

Damaging the environment: Crime against humanity?

Activists are taking the climate change fight to the courts, in hopes of stopping ecocide by rendering it a criminal act.

On Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 19:30 GMT:
As the Amazon rainforest burns, glaciers in the Arctic melt and governments fail to take steps to curb climate change, more people are demanding that ecocide be declared a criminal act. For too long, environmental damage has been seen as a “victimless” offense, activists say. But hundreds of millions of people around the world are currently contending with the very real consequences of fracking, deforestation and unchecked pollution.

Individuals and corporations should be held criminally accountable for the damage wrought by these practices, argue scientists and climate change experts. Critics however point out that it’s difficult to determine who exactly is responsible for environmental disasters, and if harm was intended by the guilty party. Some judges add that courts should not be legislating climate policy.

That said, more than 1,300 test cases in 28 countries are already working their way through the courts. In the US for example, students are suing the government for risking their futures by contributing to global warming. The fossil fuel industry is also facing lawsuits for allegedly defrauding the public through misinformation campaigns about climate change.

Elsewhere, Colombia’s Supreme Court recently granted environmental personhood status to the country’s Amazon. And in the coming months, the International Criminal Court could ratify a law that renders large-scale destruction of the natural living world illegal.

We ask, should damaging the environment be considered a crime against humanity?

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Jojo Mehta @Jojo_Mehta  
Director, Ecological Defence Integrity & Co-Founder, Stop Ecocide Campaign

Ketan Jha @PlanB_Earth
Lecturer in Law, University of Brighton

Manipadma Jena @ManipadmaJena

Read more:
Outlawing ‘ecocide’: The battle to make a crime of environmental destruction – CommonSpace
The climate change lawsuit that could stop the U.S. government from supporting fossil fuels – 60 Minutes
Keep courts off of the climate policy playground – The Hill

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.