Monica Lennon's Ecocide Bill: With sentences of up to 20 years in prison, proposed law would make the worst polluters think twice – Dr Richard Dixon
Last week Monica Lennon, the Labour/Co-operative Party MSP for Central Scotland, launched proposals for a bill to make ecocide a crime in Scotland, to act as a major deterrent to those who might create severe damage to the environment. Ecocide is defined 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”.
Although civil penalties exist for pollution, the proposed strong criminal law for the most serious damage to the environment, with proposed jail terms of between ten and 20 years for individuals and large fines for companies, would make anyone think twice before committing to a course of action which would cause serious harm to nature or the climate. The law would aim to strongly reinforce existing pollution laws and international agreements on the environment.
Globally, there are at least 12 national ecocide laws including in Ecuador, France, Georgia, Ukraine and Vietnam, with proposals for similar laws in a number of countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands and Spain. In France, a test case under their 2021 law is challenging the contamination of homes in a small town by carcinogenic chemicals.
The idea of including ecocide as an international crime has developed momentum in recent decades through the work of academics, lawyers and campaigning organisations. One group, Stop Ecocide International, is working towards making ecocide an international crime, probably by amending the founding documents of the International Criminal Court to allow it to cover the crime.
Last week’s proposals are for a Scottish Parliament Members’ Bill. The idea of such a bill is already supported by organisations such as Commonweal, Environmental Rights Centre Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, as well as the Scottish Green party. Monica Lennon can try to gather support and get her bill through parliament or the Scottish Government could decide to take it on and turn it into a government bill, as happened with the ban on smoking in public places.
There is a lively discussion on this subject in Europe and, recently, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament unanimously recommended that the EU should criminalise ecocide and the European Parliament declared its support of the inclusion of ecocide-level crimes in the EU’s revised directive on “protection of the environment through criminal law”.
The Scottish Government did not mention the idea in its recent consultation on the effectiveness of environmental governance in Scotland. But the Scottish Government is committed to trying to keep up with evolving European legislation on the environment so they may have to include ecocide in Scotland’s law eventually. Monica Lennon’s bill may be the ideal opportunity to get ecocide on the statute books.
In parallel, the Scottish Government already proposes to introduce a new human right to a healthy environment when it creates a new Human Rights Act. Both the right to a healthy environment and making ecocide a crime would be huge steps forward in protecting people and nature from companies, governments and individuals planning to trash the environment.
The deadline for responses to the proposals is February 9.
Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant
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