ENVIRONMENT - POLITICS

Environmentalists see red as French MPs make 'ecocide' an offence, not a crime

Only pollution proven to be “manifestly deliberate” will be considered an ecocide offence in France, something critics say is a red flag.
Only pollution proven to be “manifestly deliberate” will be considered an ecocide offence in France, something critics say is a red flag. www.endecocide.org

French MPs have voted to make “ecocide” an offence, as the government pushes forward with its contentious climate and resistance bill – which seeks to lay a roadmap for France’s green energy transition.

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Under the measure, those found guilty of intentional behaviour leading to serious environmental pollution will face penalties of up to ten years in prison and a fine of 4.5 million euros.

However the French Council of State, the government’s legal advisor, warned the text was poorly drafted, confusing and may raise constitutional issues.

Also opposed was the Citizens' Climate Convention, a lottery of people whose proposals are at the heart of France’s climate strategy. It had been pushing for ecocide to be deemed a crime, rather than an offence.

Thursday night’s vote by a committee of MPs follows two weeks of intense debate during which lawmakers laboured over details of the bill, one of the last major legislative battles of President Emmanuel Macron’s political mandate.

Minister of Energy Transition Barbara Pompili said ecocide offences would apply to the “most serious environmental violations at the national level”, strengthening existing penalties for water, air and soil pollution.

Damage must be intentional

However only pollution proven to be “manifestly deliberate” will be considered an ecocide offence, which critics say is a red flag. 

“The problem is that environmental disasters (Erika, Lubrizol, AZF …) are mainly the result of negligence or carelessness,” environmental lawyer Sébastien Mabile told RFI.

Also worrying is the fact that environmental damage must last at least 10 years, something Mabile said would be extremely difficult to demonstrate. 

“All these elements lead me to believe this text will have no effect,” he said.

In addition to ecocide, MPs also created the more general offence of endangering the environment, which is punishable by up to three years in prison and a 300,000 euro fine.

The climate bill text is to be submitted to the French National Assembly on 29 March.

Meanwhile global efforts to hold major polluters to account by making ecocide an international crime – on par with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – have also been gaining traction.

In recent months lawyers from around the world have begun drafting a legal definition of ecocide. 

It’s hoped the measure will be included in the Rome Statute, which governs the work of the International Criminal Court. 

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