One thing’s for sure, we would live in a very different world if businesses had to protect, restore and regenerate precious habitats as a fundamental part of their reason for being – and ability to make a profit.
To protect biodiversity – and coincidentally, the long term viability of our economy – we have to look at what is and isn’t acceptable from a moral and legal standpoint. Our basic right to life is protected unquestionably by the criminal law of murder. For the natural living world and our ecosystems – there is no such law.
This is where a new law to protect all life and the legal definition of ecocide come in. In June, a distinguished and diverse panel of legal experts, convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation on request of Swedish Parliamentarians, launched the full legal definition of ecocide:
In its entirety, the definition is 200 words – and it could save the planet. Recognising ecocide at the highest level, at the International Criminal Court (ICC), would put damage to nature on a par with crimes against humanity and genocide. If adopted and ratified, this has three very significant implications:
Biodiversity loss and ecocide – the much darker, destructive side to biodiversity loss we now have a name and a definition for – are going to be the next carbon debate.
Since the definition was announced in June, it has been very well received, prompting widespread coverage in over 100 global publications and political action. Politicians and diplomats from Bangladesh to the Caribbean and the UK (where an amendment to the government’s Environment Bill includes the new definition in full) join a fast-growing conversation, including many countries and small island states and public figures already. Well-known people who have thrown their weight behind the movement include the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg, Cara Delevigne and Paul McCartney to name a few.
Biodiversity loss and ecocide – the much darker, destructive side to biodiversity loss we now have a name and a definition for – are going to be the next carbon debate. Expect to see ecocide rising quickly up the political agenda of all climate talks and negotiations, particularly in the run up to COP26 and beyond, where binding international agreements are falling woefully short of where we need to be.
‘Ecocide law will empower companies and countries to change their behaviour’ Jojo Mehta, Director and Co-founder of Stop Ecocide International.
To begin with, it provides certainty. When every business has to operate without seriously destroying nature, it creates a more level playing field. This is especially relevant when it comes to the business of sustainability: any business wanting to claim that credential will be expected to thoroughly interrogate its operations, supply chains, products and services to ensure none of its activities are seriously damaging or destructive.
Secondly, it provides consistency. The ICC provides a legal framework for member states (and non-member states via universal jurisdiction), whereby countries who ratify the crime must include it in their domestic legislation – creating a consistent law across borders – which is important given how multinational business is.
And thirdly, it’s appropriate and proportional to the scale of destruction we face. The latest IPCC assessment report on the most up-to-date climate science could not paint a more drastic picture. We’ve lost nearly 70% of the natural living world in less than 50 years. Therefore, the definition intentionally focuses on the most severe and either widespread or long-term cases, allowing for the most serious offenders to be prosecuted first. Only key decision-makers will be held responsible. Besides, many business leaders are now calling for tougher regulation and laws to support the kind of business they would like to do.
Ecocide law places risk where it belongs: presenting a competitive advantage and lower risk for businesses who really are trying to do the right thing. Overall, it stimulates a very different kind of business – a much more holistic kind – built with nature and the planetary boundaries in mind, across every aspect of strategy, innovation, products, services, client work, supply chains, operations, ethics, and behaviour.
It won’t be long before we live in a world where every business has to be sustainable – where environmental and social considerations are a fundamental and embedded part of day-to-day decision-making. Businesses will have to learn to operate without destroying ecosystems – this change is inevitable – the real question is when and how. In just the same way, up until recently, financials have been the only major driving force behind big decisions: nature is going to take centre stage.
Continuing with outdated industrial practices will only lead to further ecological – and economic – breakdown. Time in that world is running out...
We need a course-corrector – a hard stop and a new level of aspiration – everyone can work towards, and fast. The race is on.
To factor biodiversity into everything we do, businesses have to become more like ecosystems themselves. Look to nature and we see a plethora of examples of structures focused on creating and nurturing diverse connections. We need to spend more time considering how we work with nature. We have to drive innovation in new directions and include many more diverse people and their niche of unique experience – a range of thought – to ensure we do adapt. Climate justice and social justice are inextricably linked. We won’t solve one without the other.
We need a new formula. And despite some of the world’s biggest companies trying to replicate nature’s intelligence through AI, not everything with value can be matched or managed by a machine. Take love, we know it’s inherent value – we know we need it to sustain life – we don’t question or try to quantify that (though perhaps we should sometimes). The same could be said for nature: there are some things we are just in desperate need of a lot more of.
Let’s start by protecting the incredible biodiversity we have left, and doing everything we can to pave the way for nature to regenerate itself. After all, we’re not separate from nature – we are part of it. Which is exactly why nature will be the thing that saves us.
If you’re a business or a brand interested in learning more about truth, transparency and storytelling in sustainability, and how we can support you in doing more, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
As the storytellers for business, the advertising industry has arguably one of the most important roles to play when it comes to shifting the course we’re on and responding to the climate emergency. At TCO, we take this role very seriously in the work we produce for our clients and the day-to-day journalism we do. Our involvement in the Ad Net Zero initiative underscores our core commitments and will help us monitor and reduce our carbon impacts alongside similar agencies, so we can tell how we’re doing operationally, learn from each other and keep striving to do more.