Environmental crimes are on the rise, international authorities consider them to be the fourth largest criminal area in the world only after drugs, counterfeits, and human trafficking. The monetary value of natural resources stolen or used fraudulently is calculated to be between USD 91 billion to USD 258 billion 1 annually.
More often than we can imagine criminal organizations portray illegal trade of wildlife; illegal trade or smuggling of ozone-depleting substances; illicit transport or dumpling of various kinds of hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and illegal logging in timber when it is harvested, transported, bought or sold in violation of national laws and international agreements 2.
“Illegal activities that involve the environment, biodiversity or natural resources are often lucrative and involve comparatively low risks for criminals” 3
According to a study published by the UN Environment back in July of 2018 titled “The State of Knowledge of Crimes that have Serious Impacts on the Environment”, the five most prevalent environmental crimes areas globally are: wildlife crime, illegal logging, illegal fishing, pollution crimes and illegal mining.
The perpetration of this criminal activity usually involves multiple countries and jurisdictions. Which makes them of interest by international organizations, in fact, bodies such as the G8, the Interpol, the EU, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute recognize them as such.
Environmental crimes have a global impact.
Moreover, these horrendous acts against the environment do not only affect the planet’s natural resources they also have a direct negative effect on human health and wellbeing globally; the lack of access to substantial natural resources impoverishes countries, and the climate crisis will cause the sea levels to rise and the hospitable land to reduce, which will force the population of certain areas to migrate.
Despite the global importance that criminal acts against the environment have, the international community has failed at introducing environmental criminal programmes and at addressing them as the serious threat to peace and sustainable development they are.
There is a clear need to strengthen environmental legal rules at all levels.
It is in response to this need that Polly Higgings4, an award-winning author and barrister in London, presented a proposal to the UN for ecocide to become an international crime within the Rome Statute.
Ecocide as described by the Proposed amendment to the Rome Statute is: the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished. Therefore, Ecocide as an international law prohibits mass damage and destruction of the Earth and […] creates a legal duty of care for all inhabitants that have been or are at risk of being significantly harmed due to Ecocide 5.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the highest international legal body, it is composed by 123 States 6. All the State Members agreed to: cooperate and judicially assist internationally, setting under part 9 of the Statute a general obligation to collaborate under each State’s national law; and to enforce within their jurisdiction the sentences ruled by the International Criminal Court, as established under part 10 of the Statute.
Therefore, the inclusion of the proposed article of Ecocide would make it equivalent to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This implies that governments, of the State Parties of the Rome Statute, would have to protect the environment and would be internationally liable for Ecocide acts.