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November 8, 2023

Ecocide law consultation launched in Scotland

Coal power plant emissions
The introduction of ecocide in criminal law could allow decision-makers to be pursued in court and elevate existing environmental legislation that is seen as ineffective (Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

A member of the Scottish parliament is proposing a new criminal law that could see environmental polluters jailed for up to 20 years

A new standalone crime of ecocide is being proposed in the Scottish parliament by MSP Monica Lennon of the Labour and Co-operative party, in a consultation launched on November 8.

The consultation, which will run until February 9 2024, is supported by UK non-profit Stop Ecocide International, which campaigns for ecocide to be recognised as an international crime.

“Right now we don’t have a strong enough deterrent to stop the big polluters,” Lennon said in a statement, adding that stronger laws and enforcement mechanisms are therefore necessary.

Ecocide was defined by an independent expert group in 2021 as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

Proponents say that the introduction of ecocide in criminal law would allow individual decision-makers to be pursued in court and elevate existing environmental legislation that is seen as ineffective.

Sanctions proposed under the Scottish bill could see individuals face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years. 

Domestic ecocide legislation currently exists in more than a dozen countries worldwide, according to research by Stop Ecocide International that is also supported by the UCLA School of Law and the University of London. Most of the countries that have passed legislation in this field are former Soviet republics such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The EU is considering adding ecocide to its revision of the Environmental Crime Directive of 2008. Whereas elsewhere, Brazil and Mexico are also in the process of legislating similar rules. 

The non-profit’s ultimate goal is to incorporate ecocide into the Rome Statute, which establishes the four core crimes prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. These are currently genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

A spokesperson for the campaign noted that if the proposal secures the support of at least 18 other MSPs from at least half of the political parties or groups represented in parliament, Lennon will then have the right to introduce a more formal “member’s bill”.

They also add that Westminster could technically block the bill if passed by the Scottish parliament, using a process currently being deployed to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform.

A service from the Financial Times