Ecocide: Why the Earth is in need of a good lawyer

“The head of the Royal Bank of Scotland was asked in a shareholder meeting, ‘Why is it that we are continuing to invest in these hugely destructive projects?’, and the response was, ‘Well, it’s not a crime’.”

Jojo Mehta is the co-founder of Stop Ecocide, a campaign group that is pushing to have crimes of ecocide prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

Mehta founded Stop Ecocide in 2017, along with the barrister Polly Higgins. It was way back in 2005 that Higgins was in the Royal Courts of Justice, representing a man who had been badly injured at work. In her TED talk, Higgins speaks about how, during a break, she looked out of the window and thought about how the Earth, too, had been badly injured. And, in a moment that she describes as having changed her life, she realised that “the Earth was in need of a good lawyer.”

From then on, she dedicated her life to campaigning for ecocide to be recognised as the fifth crime tried at the International Criminal Court, alongside the four crimes in its current remit – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, those of gravest concern to the international community.

Polly Higgins – co-founder of Stop Ecocide

But then, in 2019, at the age of 50, she died suddenly, having been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer just a month before. But her work has not stopped. Since her death, Jojo Mehta has continued that work, co-ordinating the international team at Stop Ecocide and chairing the board that manages the campaign.

After battling as lone voices for many years, everyone from Greta Thunberg to Emmanuel Macron is suddenly talking about the need for ecocide to be a crime. It is being discussed in the parliaments of Belgium and Sweden, and is being pushed by several small island states. Although the recent law announced by the French government is a toothless fudge of what an ecocide law should be, described as “a nasty trick to play on citizens” by one member of the Independent Expert Panel that is developing a legal definition of the term, the idea itself is rapidly gaining traction. In this wide-ranging conversation, I discuss Jojo Mehta’s work with her, and ask her whether ecocide could change the future.

Climate Protest at Swanston Street, Melbourne – by Alpha

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