Young climate activists want jail terms for people who harm the planet

Hundreds of young people from across the world are demanding that ‘ecocide’ becomes recognised as a crime for those who damage the environment. 

The call forms part of a treaty that the youngsters thrashed out at a virtual summit on climate change aiming to pressurise world leaders, after a major conference was delayed. They accused older decision-makers of being ‘shackled by political short-termism and national self-interest’, claiming that they had instead prioritised ‘science, optimism and ambition’.

They also want politicians to ensure young people are given comprehensive teaching on the climate, based on the best science available. 

The two-week youth event, called ‘Mock COP26’, has seen 330 delegates from 140 countries agree the formal treaty and 18 environmental policies they say world leaders should adopt. It comes after COP26, due to be hosted by the UK in Glasgow, was postponed by a year because of coronavirus – a move criticised by the Mock delegates, who are aged 11 – 30.

One of their key demands is a ‘far-reaching’ law on ecocide, which the ‘Stop Ecocide’ campaign describes as serious harm to nature including the ‘mass damage and destruction of ecosystems taking place globally.’

In the treaty — designed to be adopted by national governments — the delegates write: ‘Each country shall introduce a law making the wholesale and deliberate destruction of environments upon which humanity depends a criminal offence of ecocide’. 

They call for ‘penalties appropriate to its severity and consequences for humanity, and in addition, (countries) shall support the introduction of a new international crime of ecocide capable of prosecution as a crime in the International Criminal Court.’

Manraj Gill, a delegate from Myanmar, told ‘Adopting Ecocide into national and international legislation would be a monumental step forward in overcoming the climate crisis.

‘The legal grounds provided by ecocide laws would not only put an end to current [environmentally] destructive practices and prevent [large-scale] future exploitation, they would also facilitate normative change by setting moral and ethical obligations for individuals, corporations, and governments.’

It comes as the group penned an open letter to global leaders urging them to implement a set of ‘realistic, yet progressive, youth-centred climate policies’.

The letter says: ‘Prior to Covid-19 we were of the view that governments were both unwilling and unable to take urgent joined-up action in response to an emergency. However, in the past few months, you have delivered dramatic unilateral and multilateral measures to mitigate the threat of the virus. 

‘We now ask you to take equally dramatic and urgent action to stop the threats we face from the climate emergency and ecological crisis.’

The treaty calls for governments to commit to limiting global warming to less than 1.5C and for strong commitments on air pollution, including making polluting businesses reduce their emissions. 

The youngsters’ agreement will be presented to Nigel Topping, High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, at midday on Tuesday, while a video also calls for radical change in the year leading up to the main conference.

Meanwhile, the group also want more young people to be involved in decision making on the climate, notably with more youth representatives at COP26. 

Suphane Dash-Alleyne, a delegate from Guyana, South America, said: ‘The year 2020 was meant to be the year of bold climate action, where world leaders turned words into actions. The global pandemic may have pressed pause on global negotiations, but the threat of a climate catastrophe is not going away.

Many environmentalists criticised the lack of progress at last year’s COP25, which had to be quickly moved to Spain due to unrest in Chile.

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