France approves ‘ecocide’ offence to punish environmental damage

Transgressors will be liable to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 4.5 million euros ($5.4 million).

April 18, 2021 12:40 am | Updated 12:40 am IST - Paris

Barbara Pompili.

Barbara Pompili.

The French National Assembly on Saturday approved the creation of an “ecocide” offence as part of a battery of measures aimed at protecting the environment and tackling climate change.

The ecocide measure was passed by 44 votes to 10 in the lower house of parliament and will, if it becomes law, apply to “the most serious cases of environmental damage at national level”, said Environment Minister Barbara Pompili.

Transgressors will be liable to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 4.5 million euros ($5.4 million).

Pompili stressed that the draft bill is aimed at national events, such as the pollution of a French river.

“When we think of the attacks on the Amazon rainforest, that is not something we can tackle within our own laws,” she said.

The aim is to strengthen the sanctions available to deal with “serious and durable” cases of intentional pollution of water, air or soil.

Some right-wing MPs complained about moves towards “punitive ecology. Julien Aubert of the Republicans voiced the “serious concerns” of companies facing “legal insecurity” created by such environmental justice measures.

MPs on the left judged the offence being debated insufficient to tackle the problem, highlihting that it will only apply in cases of intentional pollution and not to problems caused by negligence or recklessness.

Some opposition members complained that the very term “ecocide” was an “abuse of language”, preferring a more straightforward offence of “attacking the environment”.

The Assembly also gave the green light to an offence of endangering the environment, on the model of endangering life, punishable by three years in prison and a 300,000 euro fine. The amount of a whole series of fines provided for by articles of the Environmental Code may also go up to 100,000 euros.

The entire draft bill will go to the Assembly for a vote next month before heading to the upper house Senate.

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