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EU moves to criminalise ‘ecocide’

A protestor holds a sign in Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Wirestock/Dreamstime
A protestor holds a sign in Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Wirestock/Dreamstime

Policymakers in the European Union have reached a provisional agreement to criminalise the destruction of ecosystems, habitats and the natural environment more broadly — or acts that are “comparable to ecocide”.

“This text marks the end of impunity for environmental criminals,” Marie Toussaint, a French lawyer and member of the European Parliament, said on X. “The new directive provides environmental defenders everywhere in Europe with powerful new legal tools to defend living things and their rights.”

The rules cover offences such as oil spills, illegal water withdrawals, leaks of toxic products such as “forever chemicals”, unauthorised logging, and the discharge of polluting substances by ships, among other things.

Once approved, companies that commit ecocide can be slapped with hefty fines, and their representatives can be imprisoned. It is expected that the directive will be formally adopted in the first half of 2024, whereafter member states will have two years to implement it locally.

“Environmental crime is exploding around the world; it is now considered just as lucrative as drug trafficking, and is helping to destroy living conditions on earth,” Toussaint said.

“With this agreement, the European Union adopts some of the most ambitious legislation in the world. We will continue to fight so that we can never again harm living things in the name of profit.”

Toussaint urged EU member states to push the International Criminal Court to consider ecocide cases as well, though this would require an amendment to the court’s statute.

In a statement, the European Parliament said judges, prosecutors, police and other judicial staff would undergo specialised regular training on ecocide offences, and member states would organise awareness-raising campaigns to tackle environmental crime.

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