On September 27, the UN High-Level Sustainable Development Summit adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that replaced Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are intended to be universal in the sense of embodying a universally shared common goal towards a safe, just and sustainable space for all.
Adoption of Sustainable Development Goals was an outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that was held in 2012 in Brazil.
However, the idea of sustainability became popular at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Primarily, this international agreement on SDGs was to provide a guiding path to sustainable development in the world after 2015.
This article focuses entirely on environment as the core of SDGs as stipulated in “Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all; Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; and Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity.”
As the world strives to achieve sustainable development and environmental conservation more needs to be done at the national, regional and international level, in terms of preventing and controlling activities that have a harmful effect on the environment.
Currently our world is facing mass damage and destruction on a scale never seen before in history. At the root of this problem lies the law.
Currently the number one law governing our world is that corporations must maximize profits for their shareholders, even if this means making profits out of mass destruction to people and the planet. Profit per se is not a problem, but profit at the expense of people and planet is. Thus, there is a need to recognize ‘ecocide’.
What is ecocide and how will the law work? Ecocide refers to extensive damage to, destruction of loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.
Today, there are many international crimes: genocide, war crimes, torture, piracy, and crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. In my opinion ecocide must be on that list of international crimes because ecocide it is a crime against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all life on earth.
There are, however, two types of ecocide. The first is ecocide brought about by agency. In other words, this is often caused by human activities, especially companies. The second is ecocide precipitated by natural disasters, such as floods, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide to name but a few.
The law of ecocide would hold those in a position of superior responsibility personally liable if they commit ecocide. It is a crime of strict liability and therefore proof of intent to commit the crime is unnecessary.
At this juncture, a number of challenging questions keep emerging: Should ecocide be a crime in peacetime and wartime? Does the offender’s intent to commit the crime matter or are the consequences of extensive destruction of ecosystems severe enough to warrant ecocide being a crime of strict liability regardless of the offender’s intent?
Ecocide is already an international crime during wartime. What is lacking today is the recognition of it (ecocide) in peacetime.
At a superficial level, adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a stepping-stone to sustainable environment. Having SDGs in place is one thing and their implementation is another. Indeed, these goals are vitally important for every earth’s citizen to live in a clean environment. The goals need to be backed by law on ecocide.
Quite obviously, that law can be an enforcement measure. Ecocide legislation needs a two-pronged approach: world leaders, ministers, lawmakers, CEOs and international organizations need to champion the creation of earth law and grassroots engagement. Secondly, there needs to be a strategy to empower people to speak up on behalf of the earth. Eradicating ecocide is premised on alliances with individuals, civil society organizations and movements around the world.
To achieve a sustainablw environment requires the concerted efforts of business stakeholders. Having the law of ecocide will establishing a threshold as to how business can make profit, and create the legal framework and a playing field to allow business to be truly sustainable.
Indeed, the law of ecocide will provide the way towards a potential solution to the destructive behavior that has created the ecological crisis we now face. The law will put a stop to destructive business and opens the floodgates to clean and green business practices. The law of ecocide will enable sustainable development and the United Nations environmental programmes vision for a green economy, as reflected in the SDGs.
The writer is a lecturer and international law expert