Polly Higgins and Her Legacy in Eradicating Ecocide

A blog post by Abigail Dove, Junior Associate.

Polly Higgins was a successful corporate barrister who unexpectedly ended up being one of the world’s leading advocates for Earth justice. Higgins attended a short course at Schumacher College, a holistic science college in England dedicated to environmental efforts, that opened her mind and heart to the planet. After learning about the atrocities humans had committed to our planet, she felt a call to action that Earth needed a good lawyer.[1] When she returned home, she abandoned her lucrative law practice all for one client – the Earth.

Higgins took her phenomenal lawyering skills, applied it to what she learned at Schumacer, and developed an idea to solve climate change from a lawyers perspective. How does one even address the sheer magnitude of climate change? Higgins came up with “Ecocide.”[2] Ecocide is “extensive loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems… such that the peaceful enjoyment of the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”[3] Higgins identified a disconnect between large corporations, massive environmental damage, and how those same corporations were not held responsible for their impacts. She sought to promulgate Ecocide as an international law that would hold the top polluters in the world accountable by criminalizing their destruction of the planet. Higgins advocated fiercely for Ecocide to be adopted by the United Nations as the fifth crime against peace, alongside genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.[4] Higgins hoped that by assigning a proper title and working definition to such adverse environmental actions, they could be outlawed globally and, thus, catalyze constructive change.  In addition to effecting change through grassroot organization and teaching, Higgins also tackled these environmental issues by publishing Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Stop the Destruction of the Planet.

Higgins presented the definition and draft law of Ecocide to the UN Law Commission in 2010, but Ecocide is technically not international law because climate justice is a “soft law.”[5] In 2019, Pope Francis subsequently proposed to add Ecocide into the Roman Statute of International Criminal Court.[6] Polly Higgins’ list of accomplishments is extensive. Her efforts are directly responsible in the movement for holding major polluters accountable all across the globe.

[1] Huw Spanner, Changing the Ground Rules, HIGH PROFILES, (June, 19, 2017) https://highprofiles.info/interview/polly-higgins/.

[2] Earth Lawyer, STOP ECOCIDE INTERNATIONAL, https://www.stopecocide.earth/polly-higgins.

[3] Ecocide Crime,  ECOCIDE LAW, https://ecocidelaw.com/polly-higgins-ecocide-crime/.

[4] See Huw.

[5] See Ecocide Crime.

[6] Pope Francis: Destroying the Earth is a Sin and Should be a Crime, STOP ECOCIDE INTERNATIONAL, (Nov. 18, 2019) https://www.stopecocide.earth/press-releases-summary/pope-francis-destroying-the-earth-is-a-sin-and-should-be-a-crime.

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