France and Belgium move towards criminalising ‘ecocide’

First France’s president promised to champion an international law of ecocide, then lawmakers proposed making it a reality in Belgium

Protesters at a large demonstration in London holding 'Stop Ecocide' banners

The campaign to Stop Ecocide took a leap forward recently when France’s president Emmanuel Macron expressed support for making “ecocide” – widespread, severe or systematic harm to nature – an international crime.

Emmanuel Macron, whose Republique En Marche party lost several parliamentary seats to the Greens in recent elections, made the announcement after meeting the country’s “citizens’ assembly” on the climate in June. Over 99% of the 150-strong council – ordinary members of the public, selected at random to help steer France towards its climate goals – endorsed the proposal that ecocide be made a crime.

In a carefully worded response, the president said: “We’ll study, with you and legal experts, how this principle can be incorporated into French law”. Macron also said he wanted to see ecocide outlawed internationally, telling the council: “I share the ambition that you defend. The mother of all battles is international: to ensure that this term is enshrined in international law so that leaders … are accountable before the International Criminal Court.”

Jojo Mehta, co-founder of the campaign group Stop Ecocide, called the announcement “hugely significant”, as Macron is the first leader of a G7 country to support the move. She added: “Let’s hold him to it, and look to other countries to follow his example. This conversation is not going to go away.”

The French president also promised €15 billion of extra funding to fight climate change, and backed other recommendations put forward by the council, including advising that French people cut their cheese and meat consumption by 20 per cent.

Following Macron’s statement, the Ecolo-Groen parties, Belgium’s second biggest party group, put a bill before the country’s parliament that would make ecocide a domestic and international crime if passed into law after the summer break.

Stop Ecocide is campaigning to have the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court amended so that ecocide is criminalised. The move would force all those corporations, companies and countries currently destroying nature and polluting the planet with impunity to mend their ways, or face prosecution. That could prove a game-changer for the meat and livestock industry.

Among the harmful ecocidal activities the new crime could address would be cutting down rainforest to create pasture for industrial-scale cattle ranching or to grow animal feed crops; allowing run-off from factory farms to pollute rivers and waterways; spraying crops with harmful pesticides; overfishing and trawling the sea bed, and many more.

“Most Amazon deforestation is carried out specifically for large-scale beef production, while soils and insect populations are ravaged with pesticides for feed-growing,” says Mehta. “If we are to return a liveable world to our children, this cannot be allowed to continue. Healthier ways to farm and feed the world already exist. We must change not just our own eating and buying habits, but also the ground rules for what is morally and legally acceptable. And that requires criminal law.”

Stop Ecocide received a major financial boost last month with news that Greta Thunberg, who won the inaugural Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity, would donate €100,000 of her €1 million prize money to the Stop Ecocide Foundation. Greta also recently teamed up with Nobel peace prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and 150 celebrities and scientists to pen an open letter calling on EU leaders and other governments to criminalise ecocide and “face up to the climate emergency”.

Stop Ecocide’s “Earth Protectors” include such prominent names as environmental activists George Monbiot, and Jonathon Porritt, and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Cara Delevingne – as well as our very own Paul McCartney. You too can become an Earth Protector by donating £5 or more to support the campaign on a one-off, monthly or annual basis, to change the law and protect the Earth.

Click here to watch Jojo Mehta explain more about the Stop Ecocide campaign and why ecocide should be criminalised.

Visit StopEcocide.earth to join and for further ways to support – and sign the two recently launched petitions on ecocide, calling on the UK government to:

Support making ecocide an international crime

Make Ecocide a criminal offence in the UK