From the Pope to Greta Thunberg, there are growing calls for the crime of “ecocide” to be recognised in international criminal law – but could such a law ever work? I 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. Vanuatu is a small island state in the South Pacific, a nation severely threatened by rising sea levels . Climate change is an imminent and existential crisis in the country, yet the actions that have caused rising temperatures – such as burning fossil fuels – have almost entirely taken place elsewhere, to serve other nations, with the blessing of state governments. Small island states like Vanuatu have long tried to persuade large powerful nations to voluntarily reduce their emissions, but change has been slow – so ambassador John Licht suggested that it might be time to change the law itself. An amendment to a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, could criminalise acts that amount to ecocide, he said, arguing “this radical idea merits serious discussion”. Campaigners are calling for the destruction of […]

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