The CEOs of two of Britain’s largest companies were found guilty in the UK Supreme Court on Friday of the proposed crime of ecocide. The companies were found to have caused “extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems” in their exploitation of the Canadian tar sands.
The one-day mock trial with real witnesses, real barristers, a real judge and a real jury showed how ecocide might be tried in practice. One of the CEOs (the only participants played by actors) was also charged with ecological destruction caused by an extensive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but found not guilty.
After the trial, jury foreman Huw Spanner said his panel felt the evidence in the case of the tar sands was “incontrovertible”. Large bodies of toxic water had been allowed to stand and it was inconceivable that the resulting impacts on animal and bird life would be anything other than substantial. In the case of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he said the jury “was shocked how culpable the CEO was” in terms of actions leading to the spill. However, from the evidence presented on the day, they were not convinced that the resultant damage – especially in relation to birdlife as outlined in the indictment – was extensive.
Making ecocide the fifth crime against peace – along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – is the brainchild of Polly Higgins. The lawyer said that the mock trial had been a great learning process, identifying a number of gaps in the draft legislation that needed to be filled.
Michael Mansfield QC, who acted as the prosecutor in the trial, said that making the topmost individuals in a company responsible was critical if the law was to act as a deterrent. The proposed legislation has therefore been drafted so that individuals rather than companies are in the dock. In an actual trial, board chairmen, heads of banks and even government ministers could also be on trial.
“I’m not keen to see lots of politicians in the dock,” said Higgins. “What I want to see is people making responsible decisions.” For example, a crime of ecocide could force governments to change the incentive structures for businesses by redirecting subsidises for fossil fuels towards clean energy sources. In this way the dirty energy companies that are wrecking the environment today could be transformed into the clean energy companies of tomorrow.
The crime of ecocide includes the concept of “strict liability” or “superior responsibility” which overcomes the current situation whereby company executives simply use what Michael Mansfield called “the Spanish waiter’s defence” and claim, “I know nothing.” This is something we saw recently, for example in the parliamentary select committee questioning of Rupert Murdoch in the News International phone hacking scandal.
But what is the prospect of such legislation ever becoming law? Higgins presented the legislation in draft form to the UN Law Commission back in April 2010. The lawyer who says the Earth is now her only client thinks we have a critical window of opportunity between now and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012 to enshrine the crime into international law. This would require an amendment to the Rome Statute – which established the International Criminal Court in 1998 – by a two third’s majority of the signatories.
If this is achieved, the human race will have created a renewed opportunity to overcome our greatest and, up until now, most intractable threat. At a time when international climate negotiations have effectively collapsed, Higgins asserts that a “crime of ecocide will close the door to fossil fuels.”
For more information about the campaign go to: www.thisisecocide.com
Full sound recording of Rev Billy and the Church of Earthalujah! exorcising the evil demon of BP from the Tate. 35 minutes. July 18th 2011, 5pm at Tate Modern. TURN UP VOLUME. Starts quietly, levels vary, unadjusted original sound recording. “Got to listen hard: put your ear to the dirt!”
The start of a major campaign. Instead of cutting jobs, create a million new ones to lower carbon emissions and kick start the economy. The full 33 minute version, plus seven more films, are on Reel News 27 – available at Reel News. For more information about the campaign download the One Million Climate Jobs booklet.
Published in The Independent, Friday, 22 April 2011
“I would say the most surprising thing about my book is that someone else hasn’t written it in the past eight years. It’s an obvious question to ask, ‘what happened to the oil?’ ”
Published yesterday, Greg Muttitt’s explosive new history of post-occupation Iraq has been pulled together from hundreds of documents released under the Freedom of Information act – both here and in the US – as well as from numerous first-hand interviews. Muttitt was the source of The Independent’s front-page revelations on Tuesday that both BP and Shell had meetings with government officials in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq…
Cross post from UK Tar Sands Network:
On January 14th 2011 a group of protesters invaded the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and demanded a meeting with Stephen Green, the new Minister for Trade. Calling themselves the “Big Society Trade Negotiators”, they were concerned that trade negotiations between the EU and Canada, due to start in Brussels the following Monday, would dramatically boost Europe’s involvement in the Canadian Tar Sands -the most destructive project on earth. They occupied the lobby and conducted a noisy teach-in about trade and the Tar Sands. They only left after the Minister offered them a meeting at a later date.
Unbeknownst to most citizens, the EU and Canada are in the midst of negotiating an ambitious free trade deal (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA) that could open up the European market to imports of carbon-intensive Tar Sands oil for the first time . Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the talks is the plan to allow multinational companies like BP and Shell to sue national governments over social and environmental regulations . This is happening despite the increasingly urgent need for governments to crack down on the destructive and dangerous activities of such companies…
He first warned about climate change 30 years ago. Now James Hansen wants us to get serious about a tax on carbon. He tells Phil England why it’s our last chance
Pubished in The Independent Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Grave warning: Climate scientist Professor James Hansen , who has spent the past 30 years advising US administrations from Jimmy Carter to George W Bush, says action must be taken now.Professor James Hansen’s last formal engagement was delivering a keynote paper to the American Geophysical Union Autumn meeting. After that, he spent the holidays not enjoying wintry walks or taking advantage of the sales, but doing something altogether more industrious. “I’m writing a paper to provide the scientific basis for [law] suits against the government – just to make them do their job,” he says…
The talks in Cancun continued overnight and adopted the two new Chairs’ texts in the face of sustained opposition by Bolivia at around 4am Cancun time on Saturday 11th December. The decisions are finally up online: the main Long-term Co-operative Action agreement, the Kyoto Protocol decision and the the full set of decisions. The Guardian followed the process on their live blog.
While many are relieved that something (anything!) has been agreed and that therefore “the multilateral process has been saved,” some less rose-tinted analysis is emerging…