HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit

Written submission by The Earth Community Trust

1. Executive Summary

1.1 There was a distinct lack of leadership from the UK Government at RIO+20.

2.2 There was a distinct lack of ambition in the Rio+20 outcome document.

1.3 International legally binding measures are needed rather than goals and voluntary commitments.

1.4 The UK Government has a history of pioneering major laws which have global repercussions and change the course of history forever. For example it abolished slavery, and was a leader in women’s rights movement. Once again the Government can mark itself as a leader in the environmental field, by pioneering new legislation which will ensure a smooth transition to the green economy and achieve the future we want, which is set out in the Rio outcome document.

1.5 The UK Government can call for an international law of Ecocide to stand alongside the other four Crimes Against Peace.

2. Introduction

2.1 I am a lawyer and work for an environmental charity. I studied a degree in law and a Master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy at UCL, London.

2.2 I attended the Rio+20 Earth Summit as an individual member of the Major Group for Children and Youth and as an employee of the Earth Community Trust as a member of the Major Group for NGOs. I attended many pre-summit meetings including the Corporate Sustainability Forum and The World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability also attended by Lord Carnwath amongst other leaders in the legal field.

2.3 I witnessed a distinct lack of leadership coming from our world leaders, in particular the UK government and I was appalled that David Cameron did not attend. I was disappointed that there was a lack of media coverage in the UK about Rio +20. The outcome document "The Future We Want" is a weaker reflection of the original 1992 Rio Declaration and falls massively short of what was needed. It fails to reflect the urgency of the situation, it fails to represent the voices of civil society for which the document was meant for, and it lacks concrete measures to achieve the future we want. It is representative of the future we don’t want. This is why on the second day of the high-level conference, 150 civil society representatives walked out after mounting frustrations at the lack of proactive decisions being made in the negotiations. This is why the Major Group for Children and Youth ripped up the outcome document and adopted an alternative closing statement.

3. Factual information

3.1 S. 4 of the Rio declaration states: "We recognize that...changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development."

3.2 To achieve this legally binding measures are necessary. Voluntary commitments and goals are not working as highlighted by the Global Environmental Outlook 5. (GEO5)

3.3 GEO-5 launched ahead of Rio+20 assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four; which included eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer. Part of the success behind this was that the Montreal Protocol puts a stop to ozone depleting resources full stop on an international level. [1] It doesn’t create a trading scheme, it recognises that for the health and well being of people and the planet these substances must be phased out. In addition it allows for the management of the economy so businesses trading in these substances are not harmed by using subsidies and a phase out transition phase. This highlights that certain legally binding measures are incredibly effective as solutions.

3.4 The GEO5 highlights that Efforts to slow the rate or extent of (climate) change ...have not succeeded.... responses need to focus on the root causes, the underlying drivers of environmental changes, rather than only the pressures or symptoms. [2]

Law is essential to achieving objectives. The GEO5 recognise that efforts in the Brazilia Amazon have had a significant impact on lowering deforestation rates. [3] Brazil has very forward looking legislation including the Environmental Crimes Act which holds not only individuals but also corporate persons strictly liable for committing various crimes to the environment. However, it is not as effective as it could be due to a lack of enforcement and corruption. Which suggests that there needs to be an international oversight mechanism for law enforcement.

3.5 GEO5 recognises that in order to address Climate Change there is a need to remove perverse/environmentally harmful subsidies, especially on fossil fuels and an increased use of renewable energy. [4] There is a distinct call from citizens as well as business to end fossil fuel subsidies. This year the OECD also announced the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2015. [5] This was also recognised in s.225 of the Future We want Document.

4. Recommendations for action by the Government or others which the submitter

would like the Committee to consider for inclusion in its report to the House.

4.1 There was a distinct lack of engagement from the UK Government, highlighted by the fact that David Cameron did not attend the Earth Summit. This reflects that the UK Government does not take environmental issues seriously, and sends out the wrong message globally.

4.2 One of the key root causes of climate change and environmental degradation is that the number one duty which governs our world is essentially that corporations must maximise profit to their shareholders. Profit per se is not a problem but when it is pursued at all costs, even extensive destruction to the environment which is essentially jeopardising all life on Earth, and this is not only legitimised but encouraged by the current international legal framework, this is wrong.

4.3 The UK can be a pioneer in achieving the future we want and addressing many of the needs set forth in the Rio+20 outcome document, by calling for an international law of Ecocide by amendment to the Rome Statute.

4.4 The legal definition of Ecocide is: The extensive damage to, destruction of or 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 severely diminished.

4.5 It is already an international crime during war time to cause widespread, long lasting and severe damage to the natural environment. This helps us with the interpretation of what counts as extensive damage or destruction. The 1977 United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) explains what the terms "widespread", "long-lasting" and "severe" mean:

1. "widespread": encompassing an area on the scale of several hundred square kilometers;

2. "long-lasting": lasting for a period of months, or approximately a season;

3. "severe": involving serious or significant disruption or harm to human life, natural and economic resources or other assets.

4.6 Ecocide should be included as a Crime Against Peace as it leads to resource depletion (as well as many other things). This in turn leads to conflict. This then leads to war. This leads to more damage and destruction. This is why Ecocide is a Crime Against Peace, because it leads to conflict and war. This cycle will continue until we put a stop to the Ecocide.

4.7 There are two types of Ecocide. Human agency and other causes refer to who or what has caused the Ecocide. Firstly, where Ecocide is caused by human agency, we can identify who has caused the Ecocide. For example the Ecocide due to the Athabasca tar sands is a result of a head of a corporation deciding to operate there. Secondly, where Ecocide is a result of other causes, we cannot identify a person who has caused the Ecocide, for example Ecocide caused by extensive flooding, is essentially an act of God.

4.8 With regard to the first type of Ecocide, caused by human agency. The law of Ecocide will hold those people who are in a position of superior responsibility criminally liable if they commit Ecocide. It will be a crime of strict liability meaning that intent to commit the act need not be proved for a person to be charged with committing Ecocide. Most heads of corporations never intend to commit Ecocide, it is simply a consequence of their destructive business practices.

4.9 A law of Ecocide acts as a preventative mechanism to put a stop to business practices giving rise to Ecocide.  Heads of corporations are unlikely to continue business which is giving rise to Ecocide if they could potentially be held personally liable for this, and face criminal prosecution.   Shareholders and banks also won’t loan if they could face criminal prosecution for funding Ecocide. It will actually make sense to invest in green business. Investment and subsidies will be redirected to cleaner energies and create green jobs. When we put a stop at source to ecocides which are destroying our carbon sinks and causing escalating green house gas emissions, this has a knock on effect and will help prevent runaway climate change.

4. 10 If Ecocide continues then restorative justice will be used to ensure the damage to people’s lives and the environment planet is truly addressed and restored as far as possible. Restorative justice and other sanctions will be explained later.

4.11 A law of Ecocide also imposes a duty on all states to provide assistance to those facing naturally occurring ecocides, or Ecocide as a result of other causes

4.12 This is a law which can work. In 2011 a mock (fictional) trial was held in the Supreme Court of England and Wales, to test how the law would work.

4.13 Ecocide was also examined within the United Nations when t he Rome Statute which sets out four core international crimes including genocide was being drafted. It was examined for decades and was going to be implemented as the fifth crime against peace but was dropped at the last minute in the 1990s. The report which explains the history of Ecocide within the UN is attached. [Not published. See


4.14 There are also ten countries which already have made Ecocide a crime through national law. These countries are Viet Nam, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova and Russia. However, to make these effective an international law must be called for.

4.15 To amend the Rome Statute it only actually takes one state party standing up and proposing an amendment for it to be reviewed. Then need an additional 80 state parties must agree on this, for it to be made an international crime. The UK can call for this.

4.16 Once an amendment to the Rome Statute has been agreed upon to include Ecocide, there will be a period of transition of 5 years, when corporations will be given all the help they need to become the drivers for change and create the solutions for a green economy, and to help them thrive economically under the new legal and moral framework. This transition period will allow for subsidies to be redirected from dangerous industrial activity which is causing ecocide, to clean and green business. This will ensure the economy doesn’t collapse and turns businesses which are currently the problem, into the solution and leaders for change.

4.17 This isn’t about putting a stop to business and closing down development. It is about stopping destructive practices and opening the doors to the green economy. S. 228 of the Rio declaration recognises the "importance of strong and effective legal and regulatory frameworks, policies and practices for the mining sector that deliver economic and social benefits and include effective safeguards that reduce social and environmental impact". This is the law to achieve that and is supported by the Executive Chairman and Managing Director of Global Precious Commodities PLC (http://www.gpc-plc.com), an investment company worth £3 billion which funds mining. He recognises that this is not a law which will stop mining, but which will clear up dangerous industrial activity on a global scale, so that business is truly responsible towards the environment and will no longer cause ecocide.

4.18 A law of Ecocide is also consistent with Article 58 and will help achieve the green economy, and will also ensure a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies on a global scale, which will ensure the UK business sector remains competitive.

4.19 The UK Government should stand up and call for an amendment to the Rome Statute to include an international crime of Ecocide.

24 August 2012

[1] P. 7

[2] UNEP, Global Environmental Outlook 5, Summary for Policy Makers (2012) p 5 http://www.unep.org/geo/pdfs/GEO5_SPM_English.pdf

[3] P 9

[4] 14

[5] http://www.iisd.org/gsi/sites/default/files/ffs_report_sustain_energy.pdf

Prepared 14th September 2012