The Law of Ecocide vs Other International Laws; the fight to save our planet – part one / Jesse Dyer

How does the law of Ecocide compare to other international laws?

Is it able to overcome problems that have arisen with those other international laws?

In this comparison, who will be the victor?


The rise of globalisation and issues which are hard to manage with national laws mean that national environmental laws are not suitable for all environmental concerns (Verschuuren, 2010: 2). The usefulness of national environmental laws in developing countries is also often limited as they frequently do not have the institutional frameworks, financial capabilities and scientific resources necessary to develop and implement successful national environmental laws (Ecovitality, 2013). There is a widespread belief amongst the international community that in order to successfully preserve the environment, international input is needed as well as national laws and policies. International input is important in order to have global cooperation over environmental issues and to make environmental initiatives more effective (Falkner, 2013).

Since the 1972 Stockholm Conference, the field of international environmental law has grown exponentially. There is now increasing amounts of international environmental law and policy-making and many environmental international institutions. However, despite this, there are still huge numbers of environmental problems, including decreased amounts of fresh water, continued loss of tropical rainforests, global warming and large numbers of pollution-related deaths (Falkner, 2013). It is apparent that new laws and approaches are needed.


Problems with International Law

Three core problems associated with international environmental laws are;

(1)    ambiguity in concepts and policies,

(2)   conflict between the approaches of developed and developing countries towards the environment,

(3)   and the problem of states not wishing to agree to environmental obligations.

Lack of clarity

Some environmental laws are very general and non-specific, for example, the 1989 International Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste forbids hazardous wastes from being exported to countries that lack ‘adequate means to dispose of them’. This is a very broad instruction which leaves states to interpret their own understanding of the convention and put suitable laws into place (Rosencrazn, Kibel and Yurchak, 1999: 4). Non-specific environmental laws are problematic as it means that states will have different conceptions of the law as interpretations will depend upon the value judgements of different states.  There will be wide variation in the type of policies implemented and in how restrictive they are. However, the law of Ecocide does not suffer from these ambiguities as it sets out clear guidelines of what constitutes unacceptable environmental harm, which are the same for all states. Through having clear guidelines over the requirements of the law, it will be more possible for the law of Ecocide to achieve consistent results between states.


Developed and Developing countries

There is often disagreement between developed countries and developing countries over the environmental obligations of developing countries. Developed countries often have more restrictive environmental laws than developing countries, and take the view that developing countries should adopt similarly restrictive laws. However, developing countries tend to perceive this as unfair as developed countries became wealthy through being able to develop without restrictions and use resources freely to facilitate this development. Furthermore, developing countries have also viewed that environmental laws are an imperialistic tactic for developed countries to keep developing countries at a disadvantage, in order to keep developing countries from being able to compete with developed countries (Rosencrazn, Kibel and Yurchak, 1999: 9). This is an important issue as consensus between states is a vital part of international law making. As acknowledged by an interviewee from the Eradicating Ecocide campaign, this is a potential challenge for the implementation of the law of Ecocide.  The fact that the law of Ecocide is the same for all states may initially seem unfair to developing countries as developed countries were able to engage in acts of ecocide whilst they were developing. However, it will transpire that the majority of people affected by the law of Ecocide will be citizens of developed countries. This is because whilst acts of ecocide often take place in developing countries, these are frequently attributable to the projects of large companies from developed countries. It is well known that corporations from developed countries often obtain profit through exploiting the resources of developing countries. For example, European companies such as the German corporation Voith Hydro and the Austrian corporation Andritz are supporting the Belo Monte dam and providing supplies for its construction (Rainforest Rescue, 2012). The law of Ecocide will prevent this from happening.

It is vital to ensure that developing countries are made aware that the primary targets of the law of Ecocide are the large, wealthy corporations that engage in ecocide-causing projects, and that the vast majority of these corporations are from developed countries. A limitation of the literature on the law of Ecocide is that this issue is not mentioned. This is problematic as this is a hugely important issue, if the law of Ecocide is perceived as unfairly targeting the actions of developing countries, it will not be accepted by developing countries. The proposal for the law of Ecocide and the literature on the law of Ecocide ought to show awareness of this potential problem and detail how it can be avoided. It will be necessary to clarify that the law of Ecocide is aimed at protecting the environment for the use of current and future generations from the actions of large corporations. It is not preventing economic development from taking place, and the majority of the corporations affected will be wealthy companies from developed nations.



A further core difficulty is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve consensus between the international community over legally binding environmental laws (Verschuuren, 2010: 4), with some major states not wishing to agree to new environmental obligations (Falkner, 2013). This pattern may be problematic for the law of Ecocide, as it requires the agreement of 81 states for the Rome Statute to be amended. There are currently 10 states that have already made ecocide a national crime (Eradicating Ecocide, 2013). This is a positive sign as it demonstrates that there are already states that view that it is desirable to have a law against ecocide

Let the comparing begin!

Over the course of two posts, other international attempts at addressing environmental issues will be explored. Round one will be between The 1992 Rio Earth Summit and Ecocide. Round Three will set REDD+ against the law of Ecocide. It will be possible to analyse why problems have occurred and assess whether the law of Ecocide will be able to avoid some of these difficulties.

Jesse Dyer holds a MSc in International Relations at the University of Bristol. Her main interest is environmental politics and sustainability. This blog post is based on her dissertation on the law of Ecocide – titled ‘An assessment of the law of Ecocide and how it could affect projects such as the Belo Monte dam’.

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