The public consultation on the proposed Ecocide (Prevention) (Scotland) Bill is underway.
This milestone takes us a step closer to making ecocide a crime in Scotland.
Environmental destruction puts everyone at risk.
Time is running out to tackle the climate and nature crisis, and without ecocide law it will be an uphill battle.
Those who commit wanton acts in the knowledge there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts, currently do not fear the law.
Even when legal action is pursued, the number of prosecutions and convictions for crimes against wildlife and the environment is low, calling into question whether the current regulatory approach is robust enough.
The campaign so far
In the months leading up to COP26 hosted in Glasgow, I became increasingly inspired by the global movement to criminalise ecocide, led by Stop Ecocide International. Campaigning for ecocide law was the life’s work of Scottish barrister and environmental activist Polly Higgins, who died in 2019. Polly, a co-founder of Stop Ecocide International, understood that to protect nature, we need to change the rules. A motion that I lodged in the Scottish Parliament in 2021 paid tribute to Polly and coincided with the publication of the legal definition of ecocide by an independent expert panel gained cross party support.
The campaign has support from organisations and people around Scotland, including the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.
Protecting Scotland’s Environment
The proposal would protect the environment in Scotland by creating a crime of ecocide in Scots law aimed at preventing and prosecuting the most extreme forms of environmental destruction.
The four primary aims of the proposed Ecocide (Prevention) (Scotland) Bill are
1) Make harming the environment a serious offence
2) Set clear rules for everyone to follow
3) Prevent harm before it happens
4) Align with European and International environmental developments
The current rules for protecting the environment in Scotland are spread out and unclear. Building on the work of the Stop Ecocide Foundation’s Independent Expert Legal Panel, a new law would set a clear and long-term framework with ecocide 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 Scottish environment being caused by those acts”.
This law will make it the responsibility of anyone with high-level decision-making power in industry or government to make sure their actions do not result in severe harm to nature. The intent is not solely to punish or get even. We must stop ecocide from ever happening. By using tough sanctions, we can deter serious environmental harm and achieve the system change needed to address the climate and nature crisis.
Ecocide laws around the world
There is a clear and growing trend towards the adoption of ecocide laws around the world. A dozen countries around the world already have laws criminalising ecocide, including France, Ukraine and Vietnam. The European Union recently decided to criminalise severe environmental harms “comparable to ecocide”. This decision represents a significant victory for anti-ecocide campaigners and for the planet.
The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 was introduced by the Scottish Government and passed with the stated intention of ensuring that environmental standards remain aligned with the EU. By backing ecocide law, Scotland can keep pace with EU and international environmental law. The Continuity Act does not allow for the creation of criminal offences so separate legislation is needed. By passing my proposed bill, Scotland can play our part in the global effort to stop ecocide.
We can choose to be bystanders, or we can choose to be Earth protectors.
I believe that an ecocide law is a necessary guardrail for our fragile planet, and that the time has come for Scotland’s environmental criminal law to be updated.
Have your say before 9 February 2024. Please respond to the consultation and share your views here https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/EcocidePrevention/.
Please also encourage your friends and family to respond. You can also write to your local representatives via https://www.writetothem.com/ and ask that they support ecocide law in Scotland. A template response in support of the consultation’s aims is available here. https://www.ecocidelaw.scot/have-your-say.html
Together we can change the law, save nature and stop ecocide.
Thank you for your support.