Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
287: After Clause 133, insert the following new Clause—“International crime of ecocide(1) It is an objective of Her Majesty’s Government to support the negotiation of an amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to establish a crime of ecocide.(2) In pursuance of subsection (1), a relevant Minister of the Crown must propose, either independently or jointly with other sovereign states, an amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court within 12 months of the passing of this Act.(3) In this section “ecocide” refers to harm to nature which is severe and widespread or long-term.”
My Lords, this group of amendments is simple and coherent. Both the amendments address the proposed international offence of ecocide. Noble Lords will see that the amendments have cross-party and non-party support. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Boycott, for supporting them.
Amendment 293D sets out the definition of ecocide, which means,
“unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.
The treatment that the planet and many of its people have received is criminal, and it is time that the crime was acknowledged and prevented. We are killing the ecosystems on which we rely and gravely depleting the natural world, putting at risk the many wondrous and beautiful natural systems of which we have so little understanding.
In acknowledgement of that, for more than a decade lawyers have been working on a new international law to protect this fragile planet—a law of ecocide. It is proposed that it becomes part of the Rome statute, which contains the international crime of genocide. Many people will associate this campaign with the late, great barrister and campaigner Polly Higgins. The crime of ecocide has been a topic of debate since the Vietnam War when Agent Orange was used by the US Army to defoliate vast areas of jungle. Since then, incidents of irreversible destruction to ecosystems and the ocean have led to further and ongoing proposals for this crime to be adjudicated by the International Criminal Court.
I first encountered this proposal at a one-day seminar at the British Library in 2008. Work then was already well advanced but, in the decade since, it has advanced much further. The French have already written the crime into their climate law. The Belgians and Dutch are considering doing likewise and nearly a dozen national constitutions include a recognition of ecocide. Research by the European Law Institute seeks to draw up a model law for the EU. In May, the European Parliament encouraged the EU and its members,
“to pave the way within the International Criminal Court (ICC) towards new negotiations between the parties with a view to recognising ‘ecocide’ as an international crime”.
Three of the countries that already recognise this crime are signatories to the Rome statute. Therefore, if, as I suggest, the UK successfully proposed an ecocide amendment, a total of 130 countries would recognise it as a crime, 123 of which could then take a case to the ICC for adjudication. I note, however, that the US, China and India are not state parties. There has also been publicly recorded interest from Bangladesh, Canada, Finland, Luxembourg, the Maldives, Spain and Vanuatu.
Noble Lords will note that Amendment 293D arrived rather late to this Committee. That is because it uses a new, further-developed definition of the law of ecocide that has only just been released by a distinguished expert international panel of jurists. The definition in the amendment, however, differs from the international definition by excluding a reference to outer space. The Public Bill Office declared that that was out of scope of the Bill, and while there is an argument for outer space being part of our environment, I decided to leave that discussion to another day. I note for noble Lords’ interest that the maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment reflects that which applies to genocide under UK law.
When—and I am sure that it is when—the crime is incorporated into the Rome statute, it will eventually make its way into UK law. Surely not even the current Government’s carelessness as regards international law would prevent that. But the world and our nature-depleted, plastic and pollution-choked islands cannot wait, which is why I put forward Amendment 293D.
It is worth noting that, astonishingly, the Bill as it currently stands makes no mention of ecosystems and, therefore, there can be no protection of ecosystems. Amendments contain at least five references to ecosystems, which shows that there is a desire across the House to introduce this, and introducing a crime of ecocide would be a comprehensive way in which to do that.
The lead amendment, Amendment 287, offers the international perspective and calls for the Government to commit to supporting the international Stop Ecocide campaign and within 12 months of the Act coming into force to present—alone or, I expect, with others—a proposal to amend the Rome statute.
I should love to think that the Government will embrace both these amendments but I am a realist. I am aware also that creating a whole new legal offence is something our legal eagles and those across the country are likely to want to chew over for some time. I am very much looking forward to the thoughts of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, on Amendment 293D, which I am sure will help inform future thinking on the UK offence. There is a definite opportunity for a stand-alone Private Member’s Bill here. So I am unlikely to pursue that amendment to Report but regard it as a start to the UK debate.
However, that is not the case with Amendment 287. As countries, campaign groups and lawyers across the globe line up behind the call to amend the Rome statute, the UK needs to be on board. As the chair of the COP 26 climate talks, how could we be anywhere else?
I am almost finished, but I have one final question for the Minister. Will he agree to meet with the ecocide campaign and have his officials look at the outputs from the Independent Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide? I thank other noble Lords who are taking part in this debate and those who have already offered their support. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
It is a great delight to support the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in the amendment. I, like her, believe that ecocide will be introduced as a crime on an international basis and will join the Rome statute alongside the more familiar crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The point about ecocide is that it has to be wanton and deliberate. Here are just a few examples that might be able to have that label attached to them. In Jack Harries’s new powerful film “The Breakdown”, he shows us a closed-door meeting with Exxon executives in 1977. Their scientist James Black delivers a presentation called “The Greenhouse Effect” in which he warns that carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels is warming the planet and will eventually endanger humanity. He is quoted as saying:
“Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
Exxon in 1977 took his report seriously and over subsequent years invested millions upon millions of dollars into cutting-edge climate change science and hired the world’s top scientists and engineers to help to get to the bottom of the inconvenient truth. Therefore, weirdly, a lot of early science was done by the fossil fuel companies, in part to understand the impact of their work but in part to understand where their new drilling opportunities might be. It was, strangely, the first golden age of climate research.
However, quite quickly—by 1982—the research had piled up, and it did not look so good. The impact of fossil fuels on climate change was now unquestionable. In a leaked document addressed to “Exxon personnel only”, environmental affairs manager MB Glaser wrote:
“Mitigation of the ‘greenhouse effect’ would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”
He suggested that if this was not done—again, this was in 1982—there could be “potentially catastrophic events” such as the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, which would cause a sea level rise in the order of five metres.
The men in charge did not like what they were hearing—it was too big and too bothersome and it was going to threaten their livelihoods—so, in 1983, a year later, they decided to stop listening to the scientists and listen to their accountants instead. Overnight, the troublesome little hitch called climate change effectively ceased to exist in the annals of the coal industry. Overnight, Exxon cut the funding for climate research from $900,000 a year to $150,000 a year—out of a total research budget that stood then at $600 million—and those pessimistic sponges in lab coats stopped being invited to meetings. A culture of denial was born, lifted straight from the tobacco industry—the one that said, “Cigarettes won’t give you lung cancer, keep buying them”. In this case, the industry said, “No, climate change isn’t real, so fill up your tank”.
I know that it is not within our remit—and never will be within anybody’s remit, I think—to prosecute ExxonMobil, which, as Channel 4 revealed a couple of weeks ago, is still at it. It has been pressurising President Biden over his green economy and new deal, to the extent that a lot of the investment in new green jobs has been taken away. As the lobbyist on “Channel 4 News” said, “We’re really happy because he’s sticking to infrastructure and roads and highways as a way of creating new jobs”.
Coming back to our own climate disaster, after the death of young Ella Kissi-Debrah a couple of years ago, the law did find that her death had been made possible or enhanced by the fact that she was breathing bad air. The fact that the fossil fuel companies played a part in this starts to make two parts of the story come together.
As I say, the question of ecocide is a question of intent. The £90 million fine handed out to Southern Water last week is a great step; £90 million is a lot of money. Even so, the company’s profits that year were about £200 million. Its pollution has killed countless fish and destroyed habitats and wildlife, not to mention the sea creatures whose homes have been irreparably damaged by raw sewage. As the Guardian reported:
“Andrew Marshall, appearing at the sentencing hearing for the regulator, told Canterbury crown court that Southern Water, which is ultimately under the control of Greensands Holdings”— a private company— opened storm tanks to release raw sewage into coastal waters in north Kent and the Solent to increase its own financial benefits. The company also allowed storm tanks to be kept full and to turn septic, instead of putting millions of litres of raw sewage through the treatment process as required by law.”
This flagrant and wanton act was carried out with the full knowledge of the damage that could ensue. So, yes, £90 million is terrific from one point of view, but is it not also something more? Should not a crime that would send people to prison or really shame them, such as ecocide, be attached to Andrew Marshall, the boss of Southern Water? The threats to nature and wildlife that our current practices present are talked about a lot these days. Finding someone responsible is never easy; we have not even managed to hold anyone responsible for Grenfell yet. Yet here is a case where we are damaging and threatening our natural world every day.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, many countries in Europe are already debating whether to introduce an ecocide law into their home legislation. A number of countries already have their own ecocide laws. For instance, Article 358 of the Russian criminal code states:
“Massive destruction of the animal or plant kingdoms, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, and also commission of other actions capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term of 12 to 20 years.”
Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia have also passed laws which mean that the country can send someone to prison for a wanton and knowing act of ecological disaster.
Frankly, it is uncertain how many people will die in the next few years because of climate change and nature depletion, or how many more millions of people will be forced to leave their homes, looking for sanctuary in the remaining kinder climates—but it will be a lot. It will dwarf previous acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. We must start to hold individuals accountable. Obviously, this law needs to be international —I urge the Government to work with others to make it so—but could we start by at least discussing it as a possible national offence, too? We cannot expect the world to adopt this if we do not apply it here. As we all know, on the eighth day of this long and wonderful environment debate, we have only one home; it is very precious and we need tougher laws to protect it.
My Lords, I was actually disappointed—but perhaps not surprised—to see this amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. For some time, I have been following the way in which “ecocide” has become a fashionable term to hype up human engagement with nature in a wholly negative way. I am not as familiar as the noble Baroness is with the legal definitions that she explained, but I feel that “ecocide” is an especially emotive word cynically designed to invoke thoughts of evil genocide. It implies that our relationship with nature and the different ways in which we interact with the environment are as heinous, deliberate and destructive as the Holocaust—which, to be frank, I find distasteful.
The term I am more familiar with is on the level of cultural discussion and the way in which the term “ecocide” has been used to criminalise, even if metaphorically, a whole range of human activities that have an impact on the environment. There is an unpleasant misanthropic aspect, as well, in associating human impact with wanton ecological destruction—something that I raised in my remarks at Second Reading.
Reading the literature on ecocide over the years, I have seen humans described as “a cancer on the environment”, “a parasite species on the planet” and “a virus infecting the earth’s body”. This emphasises the negative aspects of human culpability and destruction, rather than seeing humanity and civilisation as a source of creative solutions, which is more helpful. Civilisation and development have allowed our species to use knowledge, reason, ingenuity and innovation to aspire to improve the conditions of life. I would rather we celebrated the huge gains of the progress, political change and technological innovation that have driven humanity from the Stone Age through to the 21st century, yet “ecocide” and the discussion around it focuses wholly on humanity as an agent of destruction.
I worry that the whole discourse on “ecocide” expresses a disillusion with those gains—the fruits of modernity and the economic growth that we have benefited from and witnessed, particularly in the West. It views the rapid development of the rest of the world in a wholly negative way, as though somehow the use of fossil fuels in order to grow is potentially akin to mass murder, as the comparison with genocide suggests. It flirts dangerously closely with romanticising Stone Age lack of development elsewhere. In debates on earlier groups of amendments, I heard a number of noble Lords criticise GDP and say that it does not represent very much. Well, in my view, we do not have enough GDP. I want more of it for the masses of the world. Certainly, without it, well-being is nigh on impossible, and I have worried throughout this discussion on the environment that a clash is being set up between GDP—that is, economic development and growth—and matters around the environment.
It certainly seems to me that charges of activities typically dubbed ecocide are too easily levelled at countries and people trying to develop to escape immiseration, poverty and hunger. China, India and Brazil are often discussed in these terms, and I wonder who will be charged with ecocide. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, listed a number of big bad companies—in her view. That anti-corporate “They should be held responsible and blamed for the people killed” is something we are familiar with.
But I worry that ordinary people in Brazil and other parts of the developing world are implicated and criminalised for felling forests and clearing land for agriculture, as we in the West have done before and benefited from, in industrial revolutions and modernisation. I get nervous, in this discussion of ecocide, of a rather arrogant neocolonial instinct about who will be accused of ecocide, who will police those accused of it and even whether it will become a justification for western intervention, with all these green-helmet lawyers going around the world saving nature from the destructive activity of ordinary people. I totally reject this amendment.
My Lords, it is interesting to hear the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, but I take a different line. As a member of Peers for the Planet, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on introducing the concept behind these amendments to your Lordships’ House and I am pleased to add my name to them.
I confess I was disappointed when my questions to the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, about adding the crime of ecocide to the Rome statute received, first, the answer that there were no such plans. His next answer, which I have just received in time—for which I am grateful—adduced various traditional diplomatic reasons, but I still hope we can make a start. I think we should.
Of course, ecocide is an innovatory idea, and innovations are disturbing and disruptive. This one requires different thinking about human rights. The Rome statute and, for that matter, the United Nations human rights instruments have a specific human focus on what is needed to establish and maintain well-being. We in the UK have taken an even narrower view, in that we have not implemented the economic and social rights set out in the convention, only the civil and political ones. But the concept of ecocide is hardly dangerously revolutionary; it was mooted by Olof Palme in 1972 and, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Boycott, say, France and others are in the process of incorporating it into their laws.
Our environment is so critical to our well-being that we need to think in new ways about how to protect it from the damage being done to it. I think all your Lordships value our natural environment. That clearly emerges from the debates on this Bill and the answers of the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith. We should put that into practice by cherishing its biological and botanical elements and, therefore, ought to support efforts to get this into international law.
Already one of our most distinguished human rights lawyers, Philippe Sands QC, is working on how this value can be made justiciable at the International Criminal Court. The definition has now been agreed by all 12 of the eminent international lawyers in the group he chairs. For once, I hope our Government can be a bit ahead of the curve and support these amendments.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on tabling these two amendments, which give us the opportunity to consider these important issues. I broadly welcome the principles underlying them both and will take each in turn, first, that relating to international law. Before doing so, I briefly mention, as disclosed in the Members’ register, that I am a vice-president of the European Law Institute. Although I am not directly involved in its work, to which I will refer, I take a close interest in it.
It is important to appreciate that the development of international crimes has, over the centuries, reflected the desire of nations to ensure that international criminal law keeps pace with evolving standards. At present, the only international environment crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is environmental damage as a war crime, under Article 8(2)(b)(iv). It has a high threshold, as it requires:
“Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause … widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated”.
That is a high standard and is set out in the context of war, but we have moved on. It is now necessary for us to examine what should be an international crime in the context of the environment outside war.
Progress has been made in a number of individual conventions directed at certain trades but, as was set out in the 2018 report of the UN Secretary-General, Gaps in International Environmental Law and Environment- related Instruments: Towards a Global Pact for the Environment, there is no single overarching framework. The law is piecemeal and reactive and, for the most part, conventions depend on national law for their enforcement.
In this context, the important steps of the last few years have seen developing impetus for the designation of a more general crime of ecocide triable before the international court. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned, the late Polly Higgins spent much of the latter part of her life moving this forward. Again, as has been mentioned, last month, a panel of international experts put forward a definition of ecocide. While this requires detailed consideration and, in my view, further work, it is a further important step in getting to grips with establishing an international crime.
It seems plain to me that transnational concern for the environment and evolving standards have now reached the stage where the international community can begin to move towards designating ecocide as an international crime. I therefore ask the Minister, given Britain’s new global role, where it is important that we show leadership, what steps are we taking as a nation to keep up with this evolving international standard, in accordance with the long traditions of the development of international criminal law?
In parallel to this work, as it may take some years to move international criminal law forward—one has to be realistic about this—the UK ought to consider moving forward its own criminal law to establish the crime of ecocide, or other similar crimes, as set out in Amendment 293D. As has been mentioned, the European Law Institute is looking at a number of matters: first, the definition put forward by the panel of experts; but, more importantly in the domestic context, devising a model law. This would primarily be for the use of the European Union but, as the institute is Europe-wide, for other nations as well. It will provide a definition and workable set of principles to criminalise this activity and, importantly, civil remedies in tort or delict. I therefore welcome Amendment 293D in principle, although it is clear that more work needs to be done in this area.
Therefore, my second question to the Minister is: what are Her Majesty’s Government intending to do in this respect? Have the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, which are the prime movers of legal thought in England, Wales and Scotland, been asked to consider this work and provide a crime of ecocide?
My Lords, when I saw that the speakers’ list said Baroness Khan, I was worried. I thought I might have to text my beloved Lady Khan in Burnley and ask her to come and represent the Front Bench.
The question of whether the UK should adopt and build on proposals currently being considered by members of the International Criminal Court is an interesting one, and we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for tabling these amendments. Their message is clear; they are simple and coherent.
The first amendment asks the UK Government to play an active role in the international negotiations to establish a crime of ecocide. We hope that the UK, as a state party to the Rome statute, is indeed participating in those discussions and playing a constructive role. Can the Minister confirm what position we have been taking in such talks? I look forward to hearing from him on that. The second amendment seeks to establish a domestic criminal offence of ecocide. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke with great expertise and knowledge when she talked about domestic laws coming in in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, where people are causing ecological disaster.
The crime of ecocide has been a topic of debate since the Vietnam War, as has been mentioned, when the US army defoliated vast areas of jungle for military advantage. Since then, instances of irreversible damage or destruction to ecosystems—for example, to boreal forests, tropical forests and the oceans—have led to proposals to make ecocide an international crime on a par with genocide. The point that this is on a par with genocide and crimes against humanity has been made very eloquently by noble Lords.
In 2018, 94 UK academics urged those with power to defend life itself from an unprecedented disaster of our own making. The UK Parliament responded by becoming the first country to declare a climate emergency. Since 2019, 2,000 places across 34 countries have declared a climate and ecological emergency at local, regional, state or national level.
A suggested solution to the climate and ecological emergency has been gaining traction in legal, political and academic circles. The use of ecological law has been put forward as a solution, focusing on criminal damage to, or the destruction of, ecosystems, which has been mooted as the ecocide law. The question of whether to establish a criminal offence and, if so, how such a process should be undertaken is always complex. We have interpreted the amendment as a means of probing the Government’s intentions in this area. We hope the Minister can provide a detailed response, either from the Dispatch Box or in writing following the conclusion of the Committee.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for Amendments 287 and 293D on ecocide. I strongly agree with the premise of her argument. The appalling fact is that we are currently destroying life on earth. Each minute we lose around 30 football pitches-worth of tropical forest. We have seen a 70% decline in key species since 1970, which is a mere nanosecond in evolutionary terms. Nowhere is spared: a third of marine mammals are threatened with extinction; an estimated 35% of the world’s marine and coastal wetland areas were lost between 1970 and 2015, at three times the rate of forest loss; and half the world’s seabird species are already affected by ocean plastic. At the same time, we are destabilising the world’s climate. Although there is no computer model in the world sophisticated enough to fully predict the effects, we know that they will be dire.
It is of course a tragedy in and of itself, but it is also a human tragedy. A billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. As those forests are destroyed, so too are their livelihoods. Around 200 million people depend on fish for their livelihoods. As we exhaust the oceans, those people and their families are often left destitute. When ecosystems fail, so too do the many free and hopelessly undervalued services that nature provides. Because it is the world’s poorest people who are likely to depend most directly on those free services, it is they who will suffer first and worst. I say that in response to comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.
Ultimately, we all depend on the health of the planet, and its destruction has grave implications for us all. Indeed, as we sit in this Chamber, metres apart, it is worth reflecting that coronavirus itself is likely a symptom of our dysfunctional relationship with the natural world. Even if that is wrong and in this instance it is not, it is certainly the case that most pandemics are.
Objectively, it must be the case that killing ecosystems on which so many people depend has to be among the most serious of crimes. I recognise that not everyone will agree with that, but I ask those people to consider what their response might be to someone pouring poison into another person’s water supply, pumping toxic gas through someone’s window, or setting fire to a person’s farm. No one, I think, would doubt for a second the gravity of such crimes, so it should not be seen as any different when it is done by a multinational corporation in a foreign land, except, of course, at a bigger scale.
We have strong environmental laws in England, which carry fines and potential imprisonment for the most serious offences. There is a whole ecosystem of enforcement authorities: the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the Marine Management Organisation, Ofwat, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, local authorities, the police and Defra itself. In particularly egregious cases, significant sanctions are sought. For example, as has been mentioned, only last week Southern Water was fined £90 million for pumping raw sewage into protected waters around the south-east coast. There were also convictions against several employees of Southern Water, who obstructed Environment Agency investigators. But there is no doubt that our regulatory framework can be improved. That is one of the things we are trying to do with this Bill, not least with the new OEP.
There is no doubt that, around the world, the true cost of serious environmental crime or ecocide is not reflected in our response to it. Sadly, ecocide is not yet a crime recognised under international law and there is currently no consensus on its legal definition. Indeed, before the ICC and the crimes it has jurisdiction over could be established by the Rome statute, which was adopted in 1998, ecocide had to be removed in the drafting stages due to a lack of agreement among the states party to the court. The Rome statute provides for some protections for the natural environment in armed conflict—it designates international attacks that knowingly and excessively cause
“widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” as war crimes—but ecocide as a stand-alone crime is not yet recognised.
The UK’s current priority regarding the International Criminal Court is to try to reform it, so that it functions more efficiently and effectively and can deliver successful prosecutions of crimes in its jurisdiction and bring accountability for victims. I know that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will share that ambition. Reform of the court is a long and complicated process, driven by the states party to the Rome statute. Their involvement is fundamental to success. A significant amendment such as that proposed by the noble Baroness is unlikely to achieve the support of two-thirds of the states party, which is necessary to amend the Rome statute to make ecocide an international crime. The view, therefore, is that pursuing it would require an enormous amount of heavy lifting diplomatically, with little prospect at this stage of succeeding. That would likely also detract from the goal of improving the court’s effectiveness, which, in any case, would be a prerequisite for any meaningful application of ecocide.
I will end there. We are unable to accept the noble Baroness’s proposals. I therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has participated in this very informed and informative debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, stressed the basis of this crime as being wanton and deliberate action, using two very clear examples. The first is Exxon in 1977 in terms of its understanding of the climate emergency then. Secondly, flagrant breaches of the law are occurring on our own shores with the treatment of our water supplies and the spillages of sewage into them. Those are two useful examples of how we think an ecocide law would operate in practice.
Can we imagine, for a moment, being in a boardroom and hearing the chief legal officer saying to the chief executive officer, “If we took this action, the law of ecocide might just be used” and what a powerful force that would be? As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, says, it is a powerful word and a rightfully powerful word for destroying the natural world, on which we all depend. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a very important point by saying that we cannot expect the world to go forward if we are not prepared to adopt this law and take action ourselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, suggested that this was looking at human interaction with nature in a wholly negative way. I am not sure how she could regard the two examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, as anything but wholly negative. She also suggested that, at times, this term has been used metaphorically. But of course, that is not what we are talking about here; we are talking about law. The term “murder” is often used metaphorically but that does not stop it being an essential legal charge used in a legal way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, also referred to the needs of the global south. It is the global south that has suffered probably the largest amounts of environmental damage, human rights abuse, poverty and inequality from our extractive, exploitative approach to nature. All around us, we have the products of the global south’s land and, of course, the global south’s labour and ingenuity—most often insufficiently remunerated.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for her support and commend her on championing the issue of ecocide through Written Questions. She highlighted the international support for the creation of this crime and the fact that the Briton Philippe Sands QC is working very much in the leading role on this, reflecting the UK’s long-term position as a leader in international human rights law and legal protection.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his hugely informed and thoughtful contribution and expression of support for the principles. The historical perspectives that he provided were also particularly useful, acknowledging that international law has evolved with international standards and highlighting the developing impetus towards a crime of ecocide. He stressed the global role and the need for leadership and called for the UK to step forward and take a lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Khan, called for a constructive role for the UK in negotiation. I appreciate that call, which very much reflects the content of my Amendment 287. He spoke very effectively, saying that the law of ecocide is defending the land itself and made the link to the many declarations of climate and nature emergencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, gave us a very full account of the sixth great extinction and the way ecological damage does not impact just on nature but on human health and life—as we have seen with Covid. He said that there was no consensus, but surely the UK could and should be providing that leadership. As a nation, global Britain aims to be world-leading. I acknowledge his concern about the reform of the International Criminal Court, but that is a separate issue from the nature of the Rome statute. The Minister suggested that there was little prospect of this international drive succeeding. That is clearly not the view taken by the EU.
Before we come to the conclusion of this group, the Minister was asked a couple of questions that were not answered. I would like to put them to him again. First, I asked if he would be prepared to meet Stop Ecocide campaigners and ask his officials to take a look at the proposed new international definition. Secondly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, asked whether the Government would ask the Law Commission to consider this issue. May I put those two questions to the Minister before we proceed?