On March 29 2023, the European Parliament officially proposed the inclusion of “ecocide” to the Directive on Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law, following the unanimous vote by Legal Affairs Committee the week prior. The proposed texts states: “When an environmental criminal offence causes severe and either widespread or long-term or irreversible damage to the quality of air, the quality of soil or the quality of water, or to biodiversity, ecosystems services and functions, animals or plants, this should be considered a crime of particular gravity, and sanctioned as such in accordance with the legal systems of the Member States, covering ecocide, for which the United Nations are currently working on an official international definition” (recital). It also mandates member states to ensure that those gravest crimes are sanctioned accordingly in their individual legal systems. This is the first time that such a definition has been included in legislation for the EU. For ecocide to be definitively recognized in EU law, it would need agreement from the three EU institutions via a consultation process known as “trilogue” negotiations – the European Parliament (promulgators); the Council of the EU; the European Commission.
Negotiations on the revised directive concluded on November 16th, 2023. The European Parliament and Council of the EU reached an agreement on the final text of the new rules, which includes acts which destroy or cause “widespread and substantial damage” that is “irreversible or long-lasting” to protected areas or ecosystems of “considerable size” or value. The language of that provision doesn’t explicitly say “ecocide,” but the rules draw from the proposed definition of ecocide advanced by the Stop Ecocide Foundation in 2021.
The European Parliament and Council of the EU must formally adopt the text, which is expected to happen in early 2024. Once adopted, EU Member States will be required to include these provisions in national legislation. Because the EU makes up almost a quarter of States in the International Criminal Court, it would be a major step towards international recognition of “ecocide” as a crime.