A little over a decade ago I was at a small conference, where I happened to share the stage with a British lawyer, Polly Higgins, seeking to internationally criminalise ‘ecocide’, alongside various other speakers. One of those others was a self declared rationalist running a data driven research start-up with billionaire funding. He believed the trickle down innovation trope that usually ends in pulling up the ladder behind them, which can be readily found around all things tech-singularity. And he called himself a futurist. After the talks we as speakers stood on and in front of the stage chatting about the things that had been presented. The futurist, addressing me and one other speaker, chuckled that ‘that eco-lady’ had a nice idea but a naive unrealistic and irrational one that obviously had zero probability of happening. At the time I found it jerkish and jarring, not least given the guys’s absence of expertise in the fields concerned (environment and international law). It’s one of the key moments I remember from that conference, as the condescending remark so strongly clashed with the rest of the event and atmosphere.

Meanwhile we’re some 10 years into the future of that conference. The futurist’s efforts collapsed soon after the conference it seems and there are no recent online traces of him. Polly Higgins is no longer alive, but her cause has very much outlived her. On 26 March the final step in the legislative path of a renewed Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law has been taken, when the Council of the EU formally approved the text agreed (last November) with the European Parliament. In that new ecocrimes directive preamble 21 uses the phrase ecocide to describe specific crimes covered in the Directive (PDF).

Criminal offences relating to intentional conduct listed in this Directive can lead to catastrophic results, such as widespread pollution, industrial accidents with severe effects on the environment or large-scale forest fires. Where such offences cause the destruction of, or widespread and substantial damage which is either irreversible or long-lasting to, an ecosystem of considerable size or environmental value or a habitat within a protected site, or cause widespread and substantial damage which is either irreversible or long-lasting to the quality of air, soil, or water, such offences, leading to such catastrophic results, should constitute qualified criminal offences and, consequently, be punished with more severe penalties than those applicable in the event of other criminal offences defined in this Directive. Those qualified criminal offences can encompass conduct comparable to ‘ecocide’, which is already covered by the law of certain Member States and which is being discussed in international fora.

Good work barrister Higgins, and the Stop Ecocide organisation.


A photo taken by Polly Higgins of me as we had fun together driving an all electric ‘motor bike’ around the venue’s hallways at that conference in 2013.

Polly Higgins about to take the e-chopper for a spin through the venue.