‘Time to tranform our laws’: Camden becomes first UK council to call for ecocide to be a crime

Professor Philippe Sands. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Camden has become the first UK council to call for the crime of ecocide to be recognised by international law.

Councillors gave the motion unanimous cross-party support.

They recognised ecocide as a crime damaging the environment and the future of the planet. They hope it will add clout to international calls to make wilful environmental damage a crime.

Councillor Anna Wright who proposed the move said: “The global destruction of ecosystems continues. These global issues require global solutions but current global environmental laws and governance are clearly inadequate.”

The council’s move comes after an international group of lawyers brought together by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, said ecocide should be added to the crimes considered by the International Criminal Court.

It won the backing of UN Secretary General and the European Parliament and would be the first new crime added to international law since 1945.

The lawyers defined ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

Nina de Ayala Parker, who seconded the motion said: “We can no longer afford to be complacent.”

She said many countries are now bearing the brunt of climate change and action is urgent.

“The law can transform our relationship to our natural world. It’s time to transform our laws, it’s time to protect our home.

Lets be guardians and problem solvers and reverse what we have started and find a better way of living and be part of our natural world that is sustainable and regenerative.”

“In a world where ecocide is a crime species that exploitative profit driven fossil fuel companies.”

Philippe Sands, Professor of the Public Understanding of Law at UCL told councillors adding ecocide to the list of crimes  “will put the environment squarely on the political agenda.”

It would also add support to others who are backing the move, he said.

He was involved in the effort to develop the definition of ecocide and was co-chair of the International Working Group which drafted a global definition in June 2021.

He  brought a deputation to the council and said making ecocide a crime would mean there are “tangible consequences.”

“We are talking about serious international crimes. What you would be doing is signalling a commitment at international level but also local level.”

He said the council’s move would “send a signal to councils in other countries around the world, to Mexico, to Colombia, to Bangladesh, Cameroon.”

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