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‘The Earth Needs a Good Lawyer’

Polly Higgins EarthTalks 200x300

Polly Higgins lawyer and campaigner set the tone for the day with a description of her work to promote the use of law in eradicating ecocide

Often referred to as Climate Crime, Ecocide is also a law that puts in place a criminal wrong. Existing laws, such as international declarations, treaties and protocols do not have the legal teeth to impute State responsibility and the necessary legal duty of care – owed by States on behalf of the public. Ecocide law is public law in the widest sense; giving protection to those at risk of being displaced, upholding the rights and duties of humanity as a whole as well as the rights of future generations, nature and indigenous rights.

A fully proposed draft of the law of Ecocide was submitted into the United Nations by Polly Higgins in April 2010. The intent behind the drafting is to ensure that people and planet are put first and to create a legal duty of care to a) prohibit the causes of mass damage and destruction, b) prevent future significant harm from taking place and c) pre-empt both human caused and natural Ecocides that put nations at risk of being unable to self-govern.

A law of Ecocide addresses the core issue of today: ensuring the welfare of both people and planet. The failure by States to assist in times of climate crisis, and failure by States to take responsibility for dangerous industrial activity (e.g. fossil fuel extraction) can both be addressed under Ecocide law. Assertion of civil rights are not in themselves enough – it is the naming of the criminal wrongs that give the enforceability to the duties and protection required by those States that are most vulnerable and at risk of being displaced (the failure of State responsibility is also referred to as State Crime).

Sally Weintrobe and Sandra White responded to Polly's presentation. You can read their papers on this website.