Killing nature a crime? France may introduce ‘ecocide’ into the criminal code

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A citizens’ council established by French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing the French leader to hold a national referendum on adding controversial environmental protection to the country’s Constitution and make ‘ecocide’ a crime.

The Citizens’ Convention on Climate (CCC) had deliberated for nine months before sending Macron their proposal, which they say will help cut carbon emissions. The citizens’ council is made up of 150 people who were randomly selected from the country’s population and was introduced to help quell “Yellow Vest” protesters furious at the government for issues ranging from economic hardship suffered by the working class to issues with unfair government taxes.

The crime of ecocide is “any act causing serious environmental damage on a global scale, committed with the knowledge of the consequences and cannot be ignored,” states the proposal of the convention, which approved its recommendations to the French government on Sunday.

A group of socialist MPs had originally wanted to introduce “ecocide” in the French criminal code last year, but parliament did not support the idea. There were fears that such an addition to the criminal code would cripple businesses competing against countries like China that feature lax environmental protection.

Socialists demanded 20 years in prison an €10 million fines for ecocide

If a company commits ecocide, the convention wants to punish it by imposing a fine on the business executives, a fine amounting to a percentage of the company’s turnover rate, and the obligation to compensate for the damage caused.

Socialist MPs who pushed for introducing the ecocide in the criminal code last year, proposed a sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of €10 million.

The goal of the convention is to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

The citizens’ convention, which has the goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2030, has support for Macron for a referendum that would decide on the introduction of the ecocide in the criminal code. The French leader previously expressed support for the plan in January this year and stated that he would not interfere with the CCC’s conclusions in any way.

“I think there is a need for a referendum on some of the measures, so we would all share the interest in the subject,” said Macron.

Besides ecocide, the representatives of the convention agreed on another issue that should be decided by all French — the inclusion of a commitment for climate protection in the preamble and the first article of the French Constitution.

“The Republic guarantees the protection of biodiversity and the environment and the fight against climate change,” states the proposed addition to the Constitution.

Reduced speed limits, mandated vegetarian meals, and warnings for SUV advertising

Among the other proposals of the convention, which total 149, there are some equally controversial ones that will undoubtedly provoke intense debates, such as a proposal to reduce speed limits on motorways of 110 kilometers per hour.

“The benefits for the climate are obvious as this will lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases by 20 percent,” claim the proponents of the proposal.

Nutrition was also a big topic for the representatives of the convention, with several proposals aiming to make the French eat less meat and more plant-based foods. One of such measures should be the introduction of two vegetarian meals a week in cafeterias from 2025.

Another portion of proposals concerns road transport as the convention would like to limit individual use of transportation to fight climate change. Therefore, it proposes the introduction of interest-free loans to buy “green cars” or a ban on “dirty cars” entering city centers. Within five years, it also aims to ban the sale of new cars that emit more than 110 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

The convention also focused on advertising and over-consumption, proposing to reduce excessive packaging and to limit advertising to products polluting the environment. For example, on billboards promoting SUVs, the convention would like to add the words “Do you really need it?”

However, reducing working hours to 28 hours per week became a point of disagreement, and the convention did not approve this proposal in the end.

Macron has now found himself in a delicate situation as he has come up with the idea of citizens’ climate convention himself and has promised not to take its recommendations lightly. But the country’s already faltering economy has cratered due coronavirus pandemic, and Macron’s government’s success in fighting unemployment has been far from great over the past two months.

Now, there are some who believe Macron will be too to fearful to keep his promises and carry out radical environmental reforms that many French oppose.

Although the head of the Élysée Palace likes to present himself as a world leader in the fight against climate change, the reality of the French economy may make him second guess any rash decisions.

Title image: Protestors hold placard during a climate demonstration, in Paris, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Climate activists are demonstrating Saturday afternoon in Paris to demand more action from the government and companies to reduce emissions and save the burning Amazon rainforest and the melting Arctic. Placard on the right reads: “I love you”. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

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