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Mercoledì, 17 Aprile 2024
The directive

EU introduces ecocide

New rules set 10-year prison terms for environmental crimes

In a ground-breaking move, the European Parliament approved new rules on environmental crimes and related sanctions. The European Union is the first international entity to criminalize the most serious forms of environmental damage. Under its updated environmental crime directive, the EU is instituting penalties and prison sentences for offences such as ecosystem destruction, including habitat loss and illegal logging.

Now, countries have a two-year window to integrate these measures into their national legal systems, with the flexibility to choose whether to introduce fines for companies. These fines can be based on a proportion of their turnover - up to 5% depending on the crime - or fixed fines of up to €40 million.

The updated law

The directive is strictly linked to the concept of "ecocide," as it is explicitly referenced in the preamble. Originating from Greek and Latin roots, "ecocide" translates to "killing one's home." In 2021, international attorneys Philippe Sands and Dior Fall Sow, along with a team of 12 legal experts, were the forces behind the creation of the legal definition. Ecocide is now defined as "unlawful or wanton acts committed with the knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of causing severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment."

The updated directive marks a significant milestone in environmental protection efforts. It identifies various activities as environmental offenses, including water abstraction, ship recycling, pollution, and the spread of invasive species. However, it overlooks key issues such as fishing, toxic waste exports, and carbon market fraud. The decree also advocates for the recognition of ecocide as a major international crime at the International Criminal Court and imposes stringent penalties for individuals involved in crimes, particularly targeting high-ranking officials such as CEOs and board members. They could face imprisonment for up to eight years, with the possibility of an extended sentence of 10 years if their actions result in loss of life. “Individuals can be held liable if they were aware of the consequences of their decisions, and if they had the power to stop them,” explains Lawyer Antonius Manders, Dutch MEP from the Group of the European People's Party.

This highlights a major shift in the direction of holding people accountable for environmental damage and highlights how seriously these transgressions are now being dealt with. “Operators must be aware that merely complying with a permit no longer frees them from criminal liability”, argues Michael Faure, a professor of comparative and international environmental law at Maastricht University.

Environmental crimes continue to be a pressing issue in Europe, but with the implementation of this new directive, we are paving the way for a more environmentally conscious society. According to Marie Toussaint, a French lawyer and MEP for the Greens/European Free Alliance group, the EU is now “adopting one of the most ambitious legislation in the world.” With her words, she emphasizes that the new directive marks a significant milestone in European history, providing protection against those who endanger ecosystems and human health. “It means putting an end to environmental impunity in Europe, which is crucial and urgent,” concludes the MEP.

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