Members of the international community, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Pope Francis, are calling for the entities like the UN to define a new form of crime against humanity. The crime of “ecocide,” or the killing of much of the natural ecological world, is defined by mass-destruction of the environment through pollution or deliberate sabotage.
Codifying ecocide as an actual crime with tangible punishments would face serious issues in the international community. Many developing countries would resent the developed world for slapping fines and sanctions on them for polluting. After all, most developed countries created huge amounts of pollution while they were industrializing. On the other hands, developing countries currently have little incentive to turn to more expensive, green technology.
The international community is at a serious crossroads. On one path, there is the status quo: allowing companies and countries to pollute freely, with little to no repercussions for their actions. This is the easier path in the short term, after all. It invites the least arguments with developing countries and with multinational corporations.
That path also carries significant costs in the long run. The global climate will continue to change, warming and melting the polar ice caps. This, in turn, will lead to rising tides, vanishing shorelines and foot shortages. Hunger, disease and homelessness will become the rule, not the exception, if such a future is allowed to play out. This isn’t hypothetical: the science supports this grim prediction of the future if pollution continues unchecked.
The other path for the global community is to hold those who commit “ecocide” to account. Companies that generate huge amounts of waste and allow their factories to pollute with no plan for switching to greener production methods need to face some kind of pressure to switch. The leaders of countries who produce the most greenhouse gasses and the most pollution currently face no accountability from the world at large.
Without external pressure to change, many leaders will continue to make decisions that benefit them in the short-term without any regard for what it will do to the planet in the long term. By implementing short-term costs that offset the damage, such as tariffs and sanctions, leaders might be forced to make the greener decision instead of the less-sustainable call. This is the decision we must make: to make ecocide a crime, or to allow the planet to continue to suffer under our actions.