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The Crime of Ecocide – Polly Higgins Interview

Polly Higgins is an international lawyer advising on creating an international law of ‘ecocide’, defined as the extensive damage, destruction to, or loss of ecosystems. Existing law doesn’t stop ecological harm, and corporations are able to commit ecological and climate atrocities with impunity. An ecocide law could be used to bring criminal proceedings against individual senior corporate or national officials and hold them to account.

Polly’s group, Ecological Defence Integrity, launched an independent investigation last year into the activities of Shell. They are one of the top fossil fuel companies, whose own climate scientists alerted them decades ago of the danger of their activities and the relationship with climate collapse. They continued their activities, along with other oil industries, despite the knowledge they had of the harm they were causing.

The International Criminal Court was set up this century, under the Rome Statute, which introduced the international crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Polly would like to see an additional crime of ecocide added to that list. There are 56 small island developing states which are particularly at risk of climate ecocide, facing an existential crisis. Millions of lives are at stake, and yet it is preventable. The recent IPCC report calls for a rapid reduction in emissions over the next few years, so corporations and countries ignoring this warning are party to a criminal enterprise.

Polly believes that non-governmental organisations have failed to bring about the rapid changes required, and petitions, marches and government lobbying have had little or no effect, so new movements like the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion, with their willingness to break laws, should be given a chance. People committing acts of civil disobedience are often doing so as an act of conscience, and wanting to protect humanity as a whole. The 20th century conscientious objectors stood up against war, and at first were imprisoned, but then began to win the right to freedom of conscience, the right to stand up and speak out. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives us that right, and allows us to become ‘conscientious protecters’ – protecting the future of our planet’s ecosystem.

Polly has set up a trust fund to help take ecocide law forward, and by donating to it, you can become a legally recognised ’Trustee Of The Earth’ – this can be used in court as documentary evidence that you are operating from your conscience. You can find out more about this at

Polly Higgins wants to draw a legal red line in the sand, just as we have done with genocide, or apartheid. She also sees this as aligning international criminal law with the one simple higher law that says ‘do no harm’. Perhaps this can help to avoid the most catastrophic disaster of our time.

Shortly after this interview, Polly was diagnosed with advanced and pervasive cancer, but in an interview with George Monbiot, she said that if it’s her time to go, her legal team will carry on the work, and she hopes one day to see a million Earth Protecters standing up for this simple single law to protect our earth.

Post Series: United Kingdom
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