Globally we have numerous laws, treaties, trade agreements and conventions. Most of them are either voluntary or if enforceable, only through civil law (which takes time and money and if successful results in a fine, whilst business that is causing harm continues). The result of this is a grand assortment of confusing declarations and recommendations, resolutions, multinational bodies and international authorities, all of which have largely failed to safeguard the Earth.
It doesn’t work.
In almost every country, businesses are rising to the challenge of moving from being the cause of mass damage and destruction to becoming the solution; renewables, next generation technologies and innovation is evolving in a very different direction. What stops these businesses from becoming mainstream is the lack of a global law that prioritises investment to flow into activities that have minimal or no adverse impacts on both people and planet. They all face the same challenge: of becoming mainstream without a global legislative framework which prioritizes their business. Subsidies and governmental policy today does not support the green economy, and voluntary measures do not break the glass ceiling. Quite simply, there is no level playing-field. Investors do not have long-term signals; instead investment flows into old established technologies rather than new and governments are unable to implement policy that is not backed by an international legal framework.
Without a global legal framework that closes the door to dangerous industrial activity and imputes a legal duty of care, governments, investment and business cannot get out of the deadlock. Despite all the efforts of so many companies, almost all ecological limits are being pushed off the chart.
Currently there is no legislation in place to make it mandatory for business to be low carbon, resource efficient, socially and ecologically positive. What this means is that businesses has no legal duty of care (known as a fiduciary duty) that puts in place an overriding duty for the health and well-being of the Earth, over and above their duty to put the interests of their shareholders first.
The Law of Ecocide is a law that will change the rules of the game. As set out in Polly Higgins, second book, Earth is our Business: changing the rules of the game, the number 1 rule that governs most business is to make profit without consequence. That law worked for a long time; now we have the knowledge that many business practices are causing mass damage and destruction. Often there is no intent; mostly the ecocide caused is secondary to the activity undertaken.
A law of Ecocide will help business that has ambitious ecological targets. Business that has a bold sustainability vision stands to benefit greatly from a law of Ecocide by removing the current restrictions to green business at source. By creating a law that prohibits ecocide, business is given a new rule that supercedes existing law – law that has failed to prevent adverse consequences at the highest level. Ecocide law creates a pre-emptive ‘think before you act’ provision; it creates a legal requirement to put people and planet first. When that happens, businesses that have a strong sustainability agenda will be able to fulfill their purpose.
Polly Higgins has proposed to all governments a 5 year transition period to run from 2015 to the end of 2019. Global economies will be given the legislative framework to create resilience and stability as well as security of long-term investment streams. In addition, as new businesses are invested in and scale up, existing businesses will shift their primary occupation to come in line with pending new law. This will initiate a wave of innovation and investment across the world, developing market practices to solve environmental problems whilst enabling the flow of money into pioneering solutions that are scale-able. It will develop an entrepreneurial global society: social innovators will thrive as they tackle emerging and persistent problems; existing businesses will respond well to a law that opens the door to other markets and new opportunities. As a result, long-term investment streams from both private and public which have become widely available, redirect the flow of money into new business practices and old that are willing and able to innovate, mobilise fast and scale-up.
A global economy built on a law of Ecocide can be our future. A law of Ecocide has the potential to unlock the current crisis, put in place a very different road-map and build in a new vision. The impact of continuing business as usual on our economies, our security, our jobs and our futures is our business – the world is in our hands. What we decide to do next can be a powerful changemaker for all of our futures; all that is required is one law for all, to trigger the transformation to a green economy. This is our legacy.