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Ecocide is a term we are hearing more and more both in the news and across social media. But what does it mean? And is it a crime?


According to the organisation Stop Ecocide International ecocide can be defined as:

Mass damage and destruction of ecosystems – severe harm to nature which is widespread or long-term.

Ecocide, committed repeatedly over decades, has created the climate and ecological emergency that we now face.

What are some example activities contributing to ecocide?

  • Deforestation is the biggest threat to both biodiversity and the global climate crisis. Forests provide a vast and varied habitat for hundreds if not thousands of ecosystems and help to moderate the temperature of the planet.  Clearence of forest trees for livestock farming and agriculture, soy and palm plantations, mineral extraction, oil drilling and wood harvesting are activities that all contribute to ecocide.
  • Ocean Damage is another global issue severely impacting on our natural ecosystems longterm.  Industrial fishing, deep sea mining and plastic pollution all destroy the balane of the ocean, which is proving catastrophic for many marine species and important habitats such as kelp forests and coral reefs.
  • Contamination from human activity is also a huge problem. Waste products are often discarded into the environment without mitagation for their consequences.Oil spills, fracking, tar sands, textile chemicals and agriculture chemicals such as pesticides all harm soils, water sources and wildlife.
  • Air pollution from nuclear disasters, chemical weaponary, the oil industry, industrial factories, fossil fuels and agriculture contribute to global warming. Not only this, we continue to breathe in polluted air all over the world!

Is ecocide a crime?

Not yet… The International Criminal Court’s four existing crimes focus on harm to humans, not the planet.  However there has been a recent push towards ecocide being made the fifth international crime alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humantiy and crimes of aggression. In a huge step for the campaign, 12 lawyers from across the globe worked together to draft the proposal for a new legal definition of ecocide in a bid to outlaw widespread destruction of the environment. The proposed definition reads:

“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.”

If the campaign to make ecocide a crime succeeds, the international courts would be able to hold accountable those most responsible for major ecological harms, including businesses and government leaders.

What happens next?

The organisation Stop Ecocide have been pushing the campaign to make ecocide a prosecutable crime since 2017, and with a new legal definition they can begin to take the next major steps. A member country of the Internation Court must next propose that ecocide be made a crime, which will trigger the procession of discussions, voting, and debates – a process that could take many years to complete.

What can I do?

  1. Read our ‘Learn‘ and ‘Solutions‘ pages to pick up tips on how to become part of the Planetary solution.
  2. Sign up to Planetary You to discover our Planetary Pathway routes towards a career in helping our planet.
  3. Follow our social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for quick and easy environmental bulletins throughout the week.
  4. Take action for ecocide on the Stop Ecocide website by clicking here to explore the many ways in which you can support their campaign.


Posted by Claire Edwards 30 June 2021

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