The Crime of Ecocide


The Promise Institute’s thinking and leadership is helping shepherd ecocide into reality.


The Promise Institute Played a Large Role

If you attended our 2020 Symposium on Human Rights and the Climate Crisis, you may recall the closing panel which explored how international criminal law could protect the environment. (If you missed it, you can watch the video here.)

A little over one year and one pandemic later, a lot has happened. The symposium was followed by a working group at the Promise Institute, which then joined forces with an international expert panel to draft a new crime of ecocide. Executive Director Kate Mackintosh was deputy co-chair of that panel, which was steered by Philippe Sands QC and Dior Fall Sow and included nine other remarkable jurists from around the globe. After months of collaboration, they have made history.


The Crime of Ecocide

  1. For the purpose of this Statute, "ecocide" means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.
  2. For the purpose of paragraph 1:
  1. "Wanton" means with reckless disregard for damage which would be clearly excessive in relation to the social and economic benefits anticipated;
  2. "Severe" means damage which involves very serious adverse changes, disruption or harm to any element of the environment, including grave impacts on human life or natural, cultural or economic resources;
  3. "Widespread" means damage which extends beyond a limited geographic area, crosses state boundaries, or is suffered by an entire ecosystem or species or a large number of human beings;
  4. "Long-term" means damage which is irreversible or which cannot be redressed through natural recovery within a reasonable period of time;
  5. "Environment" means the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, as well as outer space.

Many Promise Institute Hands Helped Shepherd Ecocide Into Being

In alphabetical order, we were assisted greatly by students Amanda Brown '20, Lydia Heye '22, Hannah Seulgee Jung '20, Prashant Khurana '20, and Ashley Sykora '21. Their work proved essential in so many aspects and we are proud to have offered hands-on work of this caliber as part of their legal education.

Meanwhile our faculty and visiting professors contributed, too! Professors Máximo Langer, Richard Steinberg and guest Richard Dicker gave invaluable input at the inception of the project. Our Assistant Director Jess Peake was a key member of the working group.


Ecocide Could Change the Course of Climate History

It is our hope that ecocide will become a watershed fifth international crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, sitting alongside Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Aggression. Beyond that however, our broader goal is to see global shifts in attitudes to the environment. Because the law holds key decision-makers individually responsible, our hope is that it will alter the calculus of risk, asserting the value of our natural world. We all win when that happens.


Press Coverage (So Far) Includes:

Polly Higgins in the GuardianFlowers in the foreground with icebergs in the background from Al JazeeraFire at sea from NBC NewsDestrcution with palm trees in the background from Financial Times

Person in rowboat next to large pile of trash in sea from CNBCAerial sand oil site from The GuardianAerial view of cattle from ViceThe aftermath of huge fires in Indonesia in 2019 from The Conversation


Learn More About Ecocide

We have partnered with the Stop Ecocide Foundation to create the website EcocideLaw.com. It's both a legal and historical resource on ecocide, including past events and discussions, a timeline of the evolution of the idea of ecocide, scholarly articles and more. Please visit the site if you're so inclined, and be sure to tell other environmental allies about it.

You can also learn more from Executive Director Kate Mackintosh through this UCLA News article.

Media Contact: Natalie Monsanto, monsanto@law.ucla.edu

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