European Union Takes a Stand: Criminalizing Ecocide to Protect the Environment

The EU’s groundbreaking decision to criminalize wide-scale environmental damage sets a precedent for global environmental protection.

In a historic move, the European Union (EU) has become the first international body to criminalize large-scale environmental damage comparable to ecocide. Late on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to update the bloc’s environmental crime directive, imposing stricter penalties on those responsible for serious cases of ecosystem destruction, including habitat loss and illegal logging. This decision marks a significant step towards ending impunity for environmental criminals and could pave the way for a new era of environmental litigation in Europe.

1: Defining Ecocide and Its Growing Recognition

The EU’s decision to criminalize ecocide aligns with a definition developed by an international panel of legal experts in 2021. Originally intended for adoption by the International Criminal Court, the definition is now being increasingly used for national-level legislation. Scotland, for instance, is considering the of the UK’s first ecocide law. The EU’s adoption of this definition signifies a growing global recognition of the need to protect ecosystems from irreversible or long-lasting damage.

2: The Scope of the Revised EU Law

The revised EU law specifies various environmental activities that will be covered, including water abstraction, ship recycling, pollution, the and spread of invasive alien species, and ozone destruction. However, it does not address fishing, the export of toxic waste to developing countries, or carbon market fraud. Importantly, having a permit to carry out listed activities will not serve as an automatic excuse. Individuals and companies will be held accountable if authorizations were obtained fraudulently, through corruption, extortion, coercion, or if they breach legal requirements.

3: Penalties and Enforcement

The newly passed law introduces stricter penalties for environmental crimes. Individuals may face prison sentences, while companies could be excluded from accessing public funds. Member states will have the discretion to impose fines on companies based on a percentage of their turnover (up to 5% depending on the crime) or fixed amounts of up to €40 million (£35 million). EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, emphasized the seriousness and profitability of environmental crimes, citing annual revenues from the illegal waste market in the EU ranging between €4 and €15 billion.

4: Implications and Global Impact

Marie Toussaint, a French lawyer and MEP leading EU efforts to criminalize ecocide, hailed the decision as a turning point in the fight against environmental destruction. The EU’s adoption of ambitious legislation serves as a support system for environmental defenders and a deterrent to corporations that flout laws and undermine environmental democracy. The agreement follows extensive negotiations between the European Council, Commission, and Parliament, as well as civil society campaigning. Jojo Mehta, co-founder and executive director of Stop Ecocide International, believes that this updated law will encourage member states to take environmental harms more seriously, predicting that ecocide will eventually be recognized in criminal law at every level.


The EU’s groundbreaking decision to criminalize wide-scale environmental damage is a significant milestone in global environmental protection efforts. By holding individuals and companies accountable for actions that cause substantial and irreversible harm to ecosystems, the EU sets a precedent for other nations to follow. The revised law’s penalties and enforcement mechanisms aim to deter environmental criminals and protect the environment for the well-being of present and future generations. As the fight against ecocide gains momentum, it is clear that the EU’s bold step will have a lasting impact on the global stage.






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