‘Stop Ecocide: Change the Law’: a presentation, 26 February 2020



Students, staff and friends of the Northumbria University’s Climate Change Think Tank gathered in the Harvard Room to hear a powerful presentation from the Stop Ecocide: Change the Law campaign group. Sue Miller, who spoke for the group, outlined the core purpose and history of the campaign. She described the moment that the movement was born: Scottish barrister Polly Higgins, looked out of the window after another demanding court case defending a company, and jolted, “oh, but the Earth has no one to defend it!” From that spark grew the determination to find legal protections for the planet, and the current work of the group.


Living (as we all do) during Earth’s sixth mass-extinction event, the campaign organisers take both a proactive role to safeguard the planet, and a reactive role to criminalise perpetration of violence against the environment. Right now ecocide – large-scale systematic destruction of the natural living world – is legally permitted. Current laws and regulations are simply not capable of preventing the harm. Based on notions of earth jurisprudence, wherein humans are seen as only one part of an overall planetary system of mutual interdependence, the Stop Ecocide group is working to amend the remit of the International Criminal Court so that ‘ecocide’ will be recognised as a crime, alongside crimes like genocide. The harm will stop, they argue, “when government ministers can no longer issue permits for it; when insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it“.


After the presentation, a fascinating dialogue ensued. Sue Miller took questions, clarifications and alternative perspectives from her audience with characteristic warmth and grace. “The presentation was an opportunity to not only expand our network of experts in the area of Climate Change and law, but to help raise the profile of the issues that are occurring globally, and explore one of the avenues on which a positive step can be taken to help curb the impact of Climate Change” commented Law student Stuart McCabe. With new connections forged and understandings gained, Sue sped off next to address the Law School at York University.  Follow the Stop Ecocide: Change the Law group at http://www.stopecocide.earth, or legal work by Polly Higgins and others on http://www.ecocidelaw.com.

A post written By Hellen Giblin-Jowett with input from Stuart Mccabe.

Hellen is a GDL student at Northumbria University and a member of Climate Change Think Tank. Stuart is an MLaw student at Northumbria University and a member of the Climate Change Think Tank.