EU’s new environmental crime law ‘ends impunity for environmental criminals’

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Illegal toxic waste dumps in Croatia, the theft of water from major aquifers in southern Spain, illegal trade in ozone-depleting refrigerants in France: these are just a few examples of environmental crimes that European countries are struggling to stop. It doesn’t work. The lack of accountability for these actions is partly due to the European Union’s legal code, which experts say is riddled with vague definitions and enforcement gaps. That is about to change.

Last week, EU lawmakers passed a new directive criminalizing instances of environmental damage that “amount to ecocide.” Ecocide is a term broadly defined as the severe, widespread, and long-term destruction of the natural world. Advocates called the move “revolutionary.” This is because it carries stiff penalties for violators, including up to 10 years in prison, and because it is the first time that an international organization has created a legal pathway to prosecute ecocide.

“This decision marks the end of impunity for environmental offenders and could usher in a new era of environmental litigation in Europe,” said French lawyer and EU Member of Parliament from the Green Party/European Freedom Alliance group. One Marie Toussaint wrote: on X.

According to the United Nations Environment Program and Interpol, also known as Interpol, environmental crime is the fourth most lucrative illegal activity in the world, with an estimated value of $258 billion annually, and the number is increasing every year. That’s what it means. Environmental crime is often linked to other forms of organized crime such as smuggling and money laundering.

Although the new Directive uses the term “ecocide” in its preamble, it does not establish a legal definition and criminalize the act (the most widely accepted definition of ecocide is developed by an international panel of experts). Instead, it works by providing a list of “eligible crimes,” or crimes that fall within its scope. These include pollution from ships, the introduction of invasive species, and ozone layer depletion.

Jojo Mehta, a UK-based environmental activist and co-founder of the Stop Ecocide campaign, said in an email that the list is “broad but by no means exhaustive.” The directive does not mention, for example, illegal fishing or carbon market fraud. “Within hours of the news breaking, I received emails from various civil society actors asking, ‘But will such and such damage be compensated?’” she added.

The new law will hold people responsible for environmental damage if they act knowing the harm their actions cause. Experts say this aspect of the law is important because it means that a permit alone is no longer enough for a company to avoid liability.

“If new information shows that actions are causing irreparable damage to health and nature, they will have to stop,” Dutch MEP Antonius Manders told Euronews. he said.

Advocates like Mehta hope the EU’s move will have an impact beyond Europe’s borders. The main goal of the Stop Ecocide campaign is to have ecocide listed as the fifth international crime to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, after crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of aggression and genocide. Currently, only the ICC can prosecute environmental destruction as a war crime, and legal restrictions make this extremely difficult.

The campaign attracted a diverse group of supporters. The small island of Vanuatu calls for ecocide to be made an international crime as a way to limit climate-warming emissions, while the Ukrainian government uses ecocide as a way to hold individuals accountable for wartime environmental damage. insists on doing so. The latter calls escalated last summer after Russia destroyed the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine, flooding more than 230 square miles, killing scores of people and spreading chemical contamination across the country.

Kate McIntosh, executive director of the Netherlands-based UCLA Law Promise Institute Europe, told Grist that the ICC is unlikely to adopt ecocide laws unless other countries adopt them first. Ta.

“It’s not something that comes up out of thin air,” she said, adding that any international legal theory must have precedent at the national level. “That’s the way states accept it.”

The 27 EU member states will have two years to adapt the new law to their criminal laws. Thereafter, he would review its implementation at least once every five years, using a “risk analysis-based approach,” taking into account advances in experts’ understanding of what might constitute an environmental crime. Must be updated. Mehta said that despite omitting some important crimes, the law sets an important example for other countries. Just days before the EU vote, Belgium amended its criminal code to incorporate the directive, making it the first country in Europe to recognize ecocide as a crime.

The ruling “shows leadership and compassion,” Mehta said. “This will establish clear moral and legal ‘red lines’ and provide important future direction for Europe’s industry leaders and policy makers.”


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