Polly Higgins & making the crime of ecocide a reality

Other | Friday 29th March 2019 | Phil

Ecocide is defined in the dictionary as ‘the destruction of the natural environment, especially when deliberate.’

With it certainly being a most appropriate time for environmental action as evidenced by the growing rapidity of natural disasters and temperature records being broken year after year in recent years, Polly Higgins is a barrister and environmental activist who has spent the last decade or so advocating for ecocide to be treated as a crime internationally punishable by law.

This would mean that governments, and their respective ministers who are responsible for protecting the environment, would be subject to a fully defined, fully enforceable legal duty of care with regard to the specific ecosystems and the variety of lifeforms they sustain. Failing to fulfill this duty of care would result in a heavy punishment as decided by the international community.

Back in 1996, within drafts of the pivotal EU Treaty of Rome statute, the crime of ecocide was included in a list of international crimes against humanity alongside well recognised ones such as slavery and torture. Unfortunately, at the last minute, it was dropped from the list due to the will of France, the Netherlands and the UK.

Currently there are few effective remedies or penalties against states that pursue courses of action or states that are home to companies which have a devastating, crippling effect upon the environment or a particular ecosystem.

Companies like McDonalds still plow through hundreds if not thousands of acres of rainforest to create grazing land for cattle, and companies like BP, Shell, and Rio Tinto are still not made to fully pay for disasters that they have even admitted liability for, such as oil spillages or leaving landscapes polluted and toxic to humans and wildlife. International consortiums work together, more often than not without the consent of the local indigenous communities, to clear space for cash crops like palm oil, also often at the expense of the local wildlife.

With just 91 companies being responsible for 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, it is time that these companies, along with the states which house the headquarters of the 91, are held responsible and are made to be full liable for the damage they cause.

To help make the international crime of ecocide a reality, go to and

To find out more about Polly Higgins herself, you can have a gander at her website here or her Twitter account.