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This Land is Our Land

Nicola Biggerstaff

This week saw two named storms – Storm Isha and Storm Jocelyn – batter the UK once again. With extensive damage, travel disruption and unfortunately even fatalities, this latest round of extreme weather seems to have just been accepted as the new normal.

I feel like I’ve written this piece over and over before, lamenting the effects of climate-related extreme weather on the country and urging governments to act. And yet, here we are again, lamenting at the grey skies out our windows, hunkering down and just hoping the wheelie bin or the trampoline doesn’t do a runner or our train doesn’t get cancelled, giving no thought to the wider implications.

We are simply not equipped to deal with the damage that has been done to our environment by larger nations and multinational companies: the emissions and deforestation that have led to pollution, biodiversity loss and other forms of global, sometimes irreparable harm to the environment, causing an increase in extreme weather events, new and emerging threats to our collective health, among others.

These parties essentially have free reign over our environment unless a specific act causes a specific harm, perfectly legal acts of environmental harm are being perpetrated at the expense of future generations. And while there does exist a European statute against environmental crimes, where there are grounds for prosecution if an act of pollution itself is illegal, even then, these cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute. And if the case even makes it to the stage of repercussions, they are negligible in comparison to the wealth and resources available to the perpetrators. Fines into the thousands of pounds may sound like a lot to us, but are a drop in the ocean of a multinational corporations profits.

There may however be a new way forward.

The use of the term ‘ecocide’ originates from the United State’s use of chemical weapons in Vietnam, but has since evolved to mean crimes against the environment. Specifically, according to Independent Expert Panel convened in 2021 by Stop Ecocide International, it can now be defined as:

Unlawful or wanton acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by these acts.

A long-running campaign by SEI and other global environmental campaign groups aims to amend the Rome Statute at the International Criminal Court to incorporate ecocide. By bringing environmental crime into its jurisdiction, ecocide would become the fifth crime against peace, alongside genocide, aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

This ambitious campaign should obviously have our full support if we wish to invest in our own futures. However, it’s understandable that people may be disillusioned by the scale of this. By bumping this up by several degrees of legal separation, some may even find themselves wondering how this affects them at all. Well, if you’re reading this in Scotland the week this has been published, I would simply implore you to look out the window.

Harm to the environment which occurs elsewhere across the globe affects us too, and it is more important now than ever to bring together a more cohesive and comprehensive coalition aiming to limit its adverse effects before it’s too late. Frankly, the alternatives on offer right now are laughable. Between global climate conferences being proposed as the platform to broker oil and gas deals, sponsored by the world’s heaviest polluters, or the blatant corporate greenwashing which does more harm than good in the long term in terms of meeting net zero goals, we’re clearly in desperate need of a new strategy.

The movement towards integrating ecocide into the Rome Statute at the ICC would set a groundbreaking precedent, but until then, there are also things we can do here, at home.

A new Private Member’s Bill introduced by Monica Lennon, MSP in November seeks to write the crime of ecocide into domestic law here in Scotland. The proposed Ecocide (Protection) (Scotland) Bill aims to:

                Deter mass environmental damage and destruction taking place in Scotland… [and] protect the environment in Scotland covering all natural resources – air, water, soil, wild fauna and flora.

Deterrents would include harsher sanctions for committing acts of environmental harm, including larger fines proportionate to financial turnover and imprisonment. While environmental protections do currently exist in Scots law, they clearly are not enough of a deterrent for those who continue to cause harm.

This Bill could prove to be a cornerstone in protecting our environment here at home. Should it succeed, we would be following in the footsteps of other nations, including many within the EU, as well as Mexico, Brazil, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and others who have codified ecocide into domestic law prior to any proposed change to the ICC statute.

Common Weal are proud to work with the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) in their crucial research into the implications of writing ecocide into domestic law in Scotland. To find about more about them and what they do, please visit their website.

We also invite our supporters to respond to the consultation on the new Ecocide Bill, and let the Scottish Parliament know your thoughts. The consultation is open until the 9th of February.

1 thought on “This Land is Our Land”

  1. The proposed Bill seeks to stop “unlawful or wanton acts” that damage the environment. Of course, lawful acts that damage the environment are not a crime and will continue not to be a crime even if the Bill becomes law.

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