Political Corner: Why it’s important to implement ecocide

It will help hold government accountable for their lack of action against the climate crisis

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A photo of a bunch of really tall trees. The camera is at a very low angle looking up so you can see the tops of the trees and the grey sky behind them.
Old-growth forests are an important part of the fight against the climate crisis. PHOTO: Arnaud Mesureur / Unsplash

by Parsa Alirezaei and Luke Faulks, SFU students

In the last year alone, a BC town was burned down by raging forest fires, flooding in Germany and China killed hundreds, and the southwest United States faced its worst drought in a century. Climate change is accelerating and emissions continue to rise. Governments, international organizations, and corporations have willfully abused the environment in the name of profit and refuse to oppose climate change. 

This is why the introduction of “ecocide” as a law is more important than ever. 

In July 2021, a panel of 12 legal experts suggested the International Criminal Court (ICC) introduce the charge of “ecocide.” The law defines ecocide as unlawful acts committed by those who knowingly create long-lasting environmental harm. We need to internationally recognize this legal definition of ecocide. 

While the proposed charge deliberately shies away from specific cases, it’s broad enough to tackle oil spills, nuclear disasters, and climate change. The bill also shifts the onus onto the highest level of polluters — mostly big corporations — as opposed to individual consumers, who have so often been wrongfully blamed.

While some established international laws might be used to combat aspects of ecocide, making ecocide illegal recognizes perpetrators. Under the existing international human rights regime, a regime formed by the United Nations, the right to life may be violated by government inaction on emissions reduction. 

According to a review by West Coast Environmental Law, the Canadian government has the power to criminalize ecocide. An essential barrier to overcome is decoupling economic growth from ecocide. Alberta’s tar sands are considered one of the world’s foremost examples of ecocide — from the planet-warming emissions it produces to the destruction of land. Despite positive messaging on climate, Trudeau seems committed to the tar sands. 

Ecocide harms specific communities more than others which explains the general inaction on mitigating it. Working-class and lower-income communities, women, children, and racialized people are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and environmental destruction. It’s an issue that demands resolution as we begin to tackle the overwhelmingly industrialized, wealthy perpetrators of climate change. 

Adopting ecocide will only succeed if there’s a change in the political atmosphere. A fundamental change in our political atmosphere requires actions to include and address the needs of marginalized communities. It’s the only way we can mitigate and adapt to the climate catastrophe that’s before us. 

Though making ecocide illegal is a good first step in legitimizing climate justice and environmental protection, enforcement depends on significant political support. Actions you can take include calling, emailing or visiting your local Member of Parliament’s office to ask about their stance on the issue and articulate your position. Additionally, assembling a petition and presenting it to an elected official helps show there are real votes at stake in failing to address the crime of ecocide.