The 150 members of the Citizen’s Climate Convention (CCC) want the French to express themselves, in a referendum, on the interest of legislating on the crime of ecocide to punish serious damage to the environment. If the French parliamentarians have twice rejected such a proposal, the CCC proposes a new definition setting new thresholds not to be exceeded for companies, set on planetary limits. But for some experts, the urgency is above all to apply the current law.

This is one of two measures that the 150 citizens of the Citizen’s Climate Convention (CCC) want to refer to a referendum: the introduction into law of the crime of ecocide. “We want to create legislation to protect our ecosystems from degradation and destruction, guarantee the livability of our planet and be part of the control of greenhouse gases, by placing legal and financial responsibility on authors of the depredations ”they write.

The idea is not new. Last year, two bills were tabled by socialist parliamentarians to recognize the crime of ecocide, to no avail. The Senate in May, and then the National Assembly in December, both rejected them. But the debates made it possible to bring out a keen interest in the subject, on the benches of the Modem or even of the Republicans, around the notions of planetary limits and legal personality of nature.

Preventive relevance

It is on this basis that the CCC proposes to legislate on ecocide by proposing a new definition: “Constitutes a crime of ecocide, any action having caused serious ecological damage by participating in the manifest and significant overstepping of planetary limits, committed with knowledge of the consequences which would result from it and which could not be ignored “. The penalty should include imprisonment, a fine as a significant percentage of the company’s turnover, and the obligation to pay compensation.

In order to guarantee the implementation of this law, the Convention proposes to associate a High Authority for planetary boundaries (climate change; biodiversity; nitrogen and phosphorus; changes in land use; acidification of the oceans; global use of the water; stratospheric ozone depletion; increase in aerosols; introduction of new entities into the biosphere). This independent administrative authority would be responsible for transcribing these nine limits at national level and reassessing them periodically.

“The ecocide alone is not of much interest, but it makes perfect sense if it is associated with this High Authority for Planetary Limits,” comments lawyer Sébastien Mabile, an expert on the subject. “The concept of ecocide would then have a preventive relevance because it would set thresholds not to be exceeded for companies, in the same way as what exists for the climate. L’Oréal, for example, has set up a tool for relying on these planetary limits to design its products, it is therefore possible. We would then be in the continuation of the history of environmental law which gradually determines new thresholds not to be crossed “, adds – he does.

Specialized courts

However, today, the vast majority of environmental damage is unintentional and therefore constitutes misdemeanor and not crimes. However, these are rarely the subject of convictions. Environmental litigation represents only 1% of criminal convictions and 0.5% of civil actions. In addition, while 85% of cases are prosecutable, the rate of dismissal is higher than for the average of other offenses. And when environmental offenses are tried, they lead to eight times the reduction in sentence, small fines and very rare jail time.

This is why the Minister of Justice, who had opposed the introduction of the crime of ecocide, announced at the beginning of the year the creation of specialized environmental courts in each of the 36 courts of appeal that count the French territory in order to further judicialize serious damage to the environment. The bill also introduces an environmental plea in order to speed up the process and repair the ecological damage within three years. The text was adopted at first reading in the Senate in February and its examination should resume at the start of the school year.