The Economic Case for the Law of Ecocide – by Jesse Dyer

Acts of ecocide carry economic implications as well as environmental implications. Because of this there is an economic imperative to prevent ecocide-causing projects from taking place. It is estimated that the actions of the world’s 3000 largest corporations resulted in $2.15 trillion worth of damage to the environment in 2008. It is predicted that by 2050, the environmental costs of human activity will rise to $28 trillion (UNPRI, 2010: 3). Current levels of economic activity will not be able to be maintained if resources are exhausted and ecosystems are irreparably damaged. If natural capital is not preserved, the economy will decline (UNPRI, 2010: 4). It is clear that our current actions towards to the environment are, and will continue to be extremely economically costly unless substantial changes are made.

The Costs

Acts of ecocide can be extremely financially costly in a variety of different ways. Three core ways in which ecocide can have an economic impact will be explored here. Firstly, through destroying or severely damaging natural resources, people are no longer able to continue to use them to make their livelihood from them and profit from them. .

Secondly, it is extremely expensive to restore ecosystems back to their original state once they have been severely damaged and the costs of restoration are usually more than the costs of preventing environmental damage or altering business practices to be more sustainable (UNPRI, 2010: 3). This view conflicts with research conducted by Bournemouth University which claims that environmental restoration can be a cost-effective solution to environmental damage. This research states that the restoration of dry forests is most cost-effective if a passive approach is taken, which does not involve tree re-planting. However, the Dryland Forest Working Group, which is a collective of specialists of dryland forests, clearly states that restoring dryland forests is highly labour intensive and requires tree planting, irrigation, fencing, and other measures (Dryland Forest, 2013). This labour intensive method will be more expensive than the cost-effective method identified by the Bournemouth University research. This suggests that the most effective method of restoration is unlikely to be the least expensive method. Restoration of rivers after they have been dammed is extremely expensive, for example the first stage of the project to restore the Elwha River in the United States will cost $325 million (Cho, 2011).

Additionally, it may not be possible to ‘clean up later’. Once environmental assets such as biodiversity are lost, they cannot be restored (The World Bank, 2012: 16).The most economically effective way to preserve the environment is to prevent environmentally damaging projects from occurring. This is the aim of the law of Ecocide. By prohibiting ecocide-causing projects from taking place, expensive and time-consuming restoration efforts do not have to take place.

Finally, it has been found that losing ecosystems is very economically costly. Through destroying an ecosystem, an economic asset is permanently erased. The law of Ecocide aims to prevent ecosystems from being destroyed through businesses exploiting and damaging the environment and natural resources. Smith (2010) argues against this as he views that businesses ought to be able to continue to use resources how they wish so that states can be financially prosperous. For Smith, the law of Ecocide is trying to prevent economic development. However, Smith has not taken into consideration the fact that if natural resources are destroyed, economic downturn is inevitable.

Problems with calculating costs

There are difficulties involved with costing analyses. These include preferences that can influence value judgements. This is problematic as preferences are subjective. For example, researchers may give a higher economic value to ecosystems that they have direct contact with than those that they do not (Pearce, Pearce and Palmer, 2002: 2). This means that the true economic value of ecosystems may not be obtained. In order to combat this Bergkamp argues that many different stakeholders should be consulted when making value judgements (Bergkamp et al, 2000: 8). However, this would be a time consuming and pot entially difficult process, and it is likely that not all stakeholders would be identified and therefore would fail to be consulted. Lesser known ecosystems are also likely to be given a lower economic value than ecosystems which are well known and understood (Connelly and Smith, 1999: 138). Furthermore, ecosystems are difficult to value in monetary terms due to their complex nature. At present it is not fully understood how all the different parts of an ecosystem relate to one another and interact with each other (Ring et al. 2010: 16).Without this information it is difficult to have a full understanding of the value of different ecosystems. It is also difficult to price ecological services that do not have a clear market value (Bolt, Kuta and Sarraf, 2005: 11). These difficulties mean that caution should be taken when using exact figures to claim that ecocide-causing projects should not take place. Currently the ecocide literature uses figures from the TEEB study in this way without acknowledging limitations with costing analyses.

Sustainability and the costs

There is now substantial support for the idea that through being sustainable, businesses can benefit economically and that global economic growth can be achieved through sustainable business projects (The Saltus Forum, 2013: 3). It is estimated that if green businesses and green strategies were supported by the right governmental policies and institutions, the UK’s economy could be boosted by nearly £20 billion by 2014/15 (CBI, 2012: 31). A core criticism of moving to sustainable business practices is that it is a costly process. However, although up-front capital investment costs for making state-wide changes such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions are high, the savings made by using more efficient and sustainable production methods will largely cover the initial costs of making green changes. For companies, costs of implementing green changes are often relatively low. This is because companies have the ability to adapt their methods in innovative ways in order to remain profitable. Therefore whilst making the necessary changes to production methods required by the law of Ecocide will be costly for some producers, it is unlikely to cause severe problems for the majority of corporations. Most corporations will be able to adapt and avoid engaging in projects that will cause severe environmental devastation, although it should be acknowledged that this will not be the case for all corporations.

There is increasing business support for engaging in sustainable business practices and increasing numbers of corporations are now considering environmental impacts and ways to be sustainable in their business practices. Many investors are also now choosing to invest in companies that are taking environmental concerns into consideration. This indicates that there is increasing awareness in the corporate world of the need to preserve ecosystems and prevent resources from being exhausted. Additionally, environmental regulations have not been found to cause corporations to move their operations to states without strict environmental regulations (The World Bank, 2012: 10-11). There are many other factors that influence choice of location, such as cost of labour, proximity to materials and customers and the other governmental regulations of that state (Copeland, 2012: 7). This is a positive indication that the law of Ecocide will not cause companies to start operating in countries that are not members of the Rome Statute.

The ‘cost’ of becoming sustainable

However, despite a move towards sustainable business practices being supported both in economic terms and by increasing numbers of businesses, there are difficulties associated with moving towards a more sustainable society. Firstly, at present, unsustainable patterns of behaviour are entrenched in society (The World Bank, 2012: 4). It is necessary to change the behaviour of corporations and consumers and the views of society over what constitutes acceptable behaviour towards the environment. The law of Ecocide will send the message that there needs to be a change in our understanding of our responsibility to the environment and our approach to the environment. A core aspect of the law of Ecocide is that it is intending to change people’s behaviour and perceptions and create a shift in people’s understanding of sustainability and their responsibility towards the environment (The Saltus Forum, 2013: 5). Through making it illegal for corporations to commit ecocide, social understanding will increase about the damaging effects of ecocide and its long-term consequences and the importance of preventing these actions from taking place. The law of Ecocide is a top-down approach that is intended to increase social consciousness of the need for a sustainable world and environmentally responsible business practices.

In addition, currently governmental policies do not support a move to sustainable business practices. Laws do not presently encourage businesses to be resource efficient, low carbon and to have minimal environmental impact (Eradicating Ecocide, 2013). Policy changes are needed to reform structural inefficiencies which are contributing to poor governance of resources (UNPRI, 2010: 10). Better approaches are needed in order to encourage investment, direct the market and drive innovation (CBI, 2012: 6). The law of Ecocide creates a legal impetus for businesses to engage in sustainable and non-environmentally harmful practices. Through putting the law of Ecocide into place, sustainable projects and corporations are given a competitive advantage which under current laws and policies they do not have. (The Saltus Forum, 2013: 3). Putting a law into place that will encourage sustainable business practices will be far quicker and more effective at generating change than waiting for this process to happen naturally.

Ecocide covers the costs

Two core ways in which the law of Ecocide can provide financial benefits have been identified. Firstly, through prohibiting ecocide-causing projects, the negative economic effects caused by ecocide will cease to occur. This is of great importance as the economic effects of ecocide are frequently severe and permanent. It does not make economic sense to allow these acts to continue. Secondly, whilst it has been identified that a move to sustainable business practices is financially beneficial for a state, as resources do not become depleted, wastage is reduced and new avenues for income are identified, currently the economic potential for sustainable business practices is not being realised. Through prohibiting destructive business practices, the law of Ecocide will encourage sustainable business practices, through which long-term profit may be obtained. It will also enable green corporations to be more competitive and achieve greater participation in the global economy. Through legally entrenching the notion that environmental destruction is unacceptable, the law of Ecocide can be a trigger for substantial transformation, at the governmental, corporate and societal levels.

1 thought on “The Economic Case for the Law of Ecocide – by Jesse Dyer

  • I think that a law for ending ecocide is needed even if it is not compatible with economic growth. The environment is much more important, and industrial countries are generally already overdeveloped.

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