Influential British environmental campaigner and lawyer passes away

April 23rd, 2019

A British barrister and environmentalist who spearheaded a campaign to change international law to recognise ecocide as an indictable crime has died aged 50.

Polly Higgins aimed to hold big businesses as well as Government officials to account for environmental destruction by campaigning for the inclusion of ecocide in the dossier of international crimes.

Last March, it was revealed that Ms Higgins was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer with a survival rate of not more than a few weeks.

The news of Ms Higgins’s illness compelled George Monbiot of The Guardian to highlight the importance of her work for protecting the environment asking “ why do we wait until someone has passed away before we honour them?”

Her proposed law would see those who commissioned environmentally damaging projects – including company executives and State Ministers – criminally liable, while also forming a legal duty for the protection of the earth.

She believed that current impunity for those in power to damage the planet to gain profit with no repercussions is the primary cause for the current alarming state of the planet.  

In 2010, Ms Higgins proposed her ecocide law to the United Nations Law Commission as the fifth crime against peace and as a pragmatic solution for shielding the environment.

She authored a book named Eradicating Ecocide to raise further awareness about her proposal and founded the first non-for-profit trust fund for “Earth Protectors”.

Ms Higgins devoted her life to the ecocide campaign and gave up her day job to focus on the cause. She was also the founder of a campaign for protecting greeneries known as Trees Have Right Too.

In 2009, she was voted among the world’s top 10 Visionary Thinkers by the Ecologist and was honoured as “The Planet’s Lawyer” by Change Awards the following year.

The Ecologist quoted Ms Higgins as saying that making environmental destruction an indictable crime means eradicating the bane of our age’s ecological problem.

“Until we stop pollution at source, no amount of offsetting, carbon crediting or carbon capture and storage will solve the problem,” she said.

“It’s a mad situation; our laws protect these corporations at the cost of the environment. If we’re serious about human survival we have to stop pollution.”

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.

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