Vanuatu Ambassador supports call for Climate Ecocide to be identified as an Atrocity Crime under International Law.

John H. Licht, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union Republic of Vanuatu is supporting the call for climate ecocide to be identified as an atrocity crime under International law

Speaking at a special event in the Hague accompanying the 17th Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, H.E. the Ambassador said, ”Climate change related disasters are killing an ever-growing number of people in our region and worldwide. As a result of global warming our region witnesses cyclones of unprecedented intensity, exceeding our coping capacity.

“We already see parts of our traditional lands being swallowed by the sea, we see corals dying as a result of ocean acidification and warming, and we face increasingly harsh weather conditions that are unknown to us, and hostile to our traditional way of life. The root causes of climate change - resource exploitation at alarming rates and massive clearance of natural forests - also have spill-over effects on our water catchment sources and ecosystems. 

“The resulting atrocities need to come under careful watch of the international community, especially where national environmental laws and basic human rights are blatantly ignored by multinational firms that have no concern for our environment or the dignity of our people. In sum, we need to open our eyes to what is happening, for example in our neighbourhood where mass ongoing exploitation of natural resources is intertwined with a slow genocide of the people who have ancestral ties and DNA to these resources.

The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Ben van Beurden and the CEO of Shell Netherlands Marjan van Loon have been identified as principal suspects in an Independent Preliminary Examination into the potential crime of Climate Ecocide 

At a special event in the Hague accompanying the annual Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, UK barrister and internationally renowned Ecocide Law Expert, Polly Higgins, announced that independent investigative work has already commenced:

“Findings will be subject to the same stringent conditions and rigorous scrutiny as required by official ICC procedures and will scrutinise evidence suggesting that Shell, the one of the largest oil companies in the world, knew that significant adverse impacts arise from their activities”, said Ms Higgins of Ecological Defence Integrity. “Crucially, evidence has come to light to suggest that the public has been misled for more than 30 years and such evidence could amount to a crime, if ecocide crime were to exist.

“The purpose of our independent climate ecocide examination is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence both to establish a crime of ecocide and to justify its adoption as an atrocity crime alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. Ultimately it’s up to any one of the 123 Signatory Heads of States to advance ecocide crime as an urgent amendment the Rome Statute. 

Ms Higgins said: "The fact that ecocide occurs during peacetime does not make it any less of an atrocity, or any less of a crime. We live in an age where the consequences of dangerous industrial activity are long-term, transboundary and can be felt on the other side of the world.”

The problem is that climate negotiations have never taken criminal law into consideration despite the fact that the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to prevent climate catastrophe.   A criminal law of ecocide would impose a legal duty on governments  to protect the public from dangerous industrial practices.  Hurricanes will not wait whilst we endlessly vacillate over agreements which cannot be enforced.” 

“Ecocide crime is an idea whose time has come. It is the missing international crime of our time. For frontline states suffering the devastating effects of severe weather and rising sea levels, COP24 is the wrong forum.

“I look forward to publicly reporting our findings,” said Ms Higgins. “If the evidence shows that continuous industrial activity known to adversely affect climate breakdown has been permitted, then both the Dutch government Minister and Shell’s senior officers could be held responsible for pervasive impacts on the world’s population at large, including the systemic and widespread collapse of ecosystems.”

Shell has repeatedly been put on notice. A high-profile shareholder challenge was raised in May 2018. A legal notice of intent to sue, for failing to act on climate change, has been served by Friends of the Earth Netherlands. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights are currently holding an international climate enquiry into the responsibility of Carbon Majors, including Shell. The Dutch Urgenda Foundation filed a successful climate suit against the Dutch Government, who now seek to challenge the legality of the ruling.