97. Jojo Mehta on Ecocide and Ending Impunity

With France banning short haul flights, John Kerry on his way to China and South Korea to talk climate just days ahead of The US Climate Summit, and The American Legislative Exchange Council (not so) secretly planning to fight Biden on climate, this episode is jam packed with things to discuss!

 

And speaking of things to discuss, have you heard of the word “Ecocide”? It’s a term describing something we all understand and know is wrong – the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems. But, yet it is still somehow legally permitted around the world.

 

This week, we explore the tireless work of Jojo Mehta and the Stop Ecocide Foundation who are pursuing their goal to have Ecocide added to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a fifth crime alongside Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Crimes of Aggression.

 

How would this fifth crime change corporate behavior? We can only assume it would act as a deterrent to environmental destruction, but could it also act as an accelerator of the goals of the Paris Agreement?

 

Stick around after the interview for a mesmerizing tune from Eliza Shaddad!

 

 

Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!

 

Subscribe to our Climate Action Newsletter: Signals Amidst The Noise

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana Figueres: [00:00:15] I’m Christiana Figueres.

Paul Dickinson: [00:00:17] And I’m Paul Dickinson.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:18] This week we discussed the continued climate diplomacy in the Far East. We talk about the American Legislative Exchange Council and their efforts to prevent progress on climate change. And we speak about the French rule to end short flights. Plus, we speak to Jojo Mehta, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Stop Ecocide Foundation. And we have music from Eliza Shaddad. Thanks for being here.

[00:00:49] So let’s get the difficult bit out of the way before we start off. I think that arguably the episode last week was better for my absence. I felt very sad listening to it. You guys did a great job.

Christiana Figueres: [00:01:00] It’s OK, Tom. You’re welcome to be back here. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:05] I sound needy don’t I?

Christiana Figueres: [00:01:09] Yes, yes, it’s OK.

Paul Dickinson: [00:01:11] I can lavish praise on you, Tom. Essentially, I heard myself have this nervous, kind of antsy thing going on, which I really don’t like when people talk on the radio and when you’re here, I don’t have it. So actually, I recognized last week that I need you. Exactly.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:26] Excellent. All right. So it’s been a busy week. Let’s dive in. What have you guys got?

Christiana Figueres: [00:01:33] Well, I’m actually pretty excited that John Kerry is going to China and to Korea. And I’m particularly excited because he’s doing it before the Biden summit on April 22 and 23. What does that mean in geopolitics? They are trying to nudge both Korea and China to come forward with something interesting beyond what is already on the table. So that’s actually pretty exciting. Let’s see what happens there. But let’s remember that Kerry has many friends in China from his previous engagement, as well as in Korea. So the best person to go and try to nudge both of those governments that are absolutely key to increased overall ambition now and obviously at COP 26.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:27] Wow. So do you think I mean, obviously none of us have a crystal ball. We don’t have insights into the geopolitics, but it doesn’t feel like that long ago that China came out with their net zero 2060 target. Do you think that there’s a chance-

Christiana Figueres: [00:02:38] Wait. Net zero BEFORE 2060. He’s getting on a plane to define the before.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:48] Ok, yeah. So do you feel like we might see that sharpened?

Christiana Figueres: [00:02:53] Well, I’m sure that is at least part of his intent there. It’s to define before because that’s net zero emissions before 2060 and peaking emissions before 2030. So here we are, China government. Please define before.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:12] And Paul could do it for you.

Paul Dickinson: [00:03:14] He’s leaving on a jet plane to help China define before. You have to be of a certain age to know that song that I just crucified. 

Clay Carnill: [00:03:26] John Denver.

Paul Dickinson: [00:03:28] Oh, thank you, John Denver. Thank you. Honestly, I’m so close to singing the rest of it.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:35] We have to stop. All right. So, just before we move on from that topic, Christiana, I’m fascinated. We’re now a week out from this summit that Biden is hosting. I’m hearing lots of rumors about what’s being planned. There’s going to be obviously heads of state and a range of others. Some activists are going to be there. But what I haven’t heard and I expected to have heard at least some rumors of by this time is other countries apart from the U.S., we know the U.S. is going to come out with its NDC before Earth Day, but other countries that are going to step up their ambition at that summit as well, presumably that is one of the major measures of success if no other countries step up their ambition at that summit. That’s bad news, right?

Christiana Figueres: [00:04:16] Well, it is because well, obviously, the US has to there’s no two ways about that. The U.S. has to. But of course, their preference would be to be leaders with followers and have others inspired to do the same. So that as I said, I don’t doubt that that is the motivation for carry all of a sudden jumping on a plane scarcely ten days or twelve days before the summit.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:46] And fascinating that he’s doing that in the context of the recent incredibly antagonistic meeting between Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, and his Chinese counterpart, where I don’t know if you saw the exchanges, it was just vitriolic, where they were sort of throwing barbs back and forth about Taiwan and a whole range of other different issues that John Kerry has to go into that and find a way to negotiate progress on climate change is a fascinating challenge.

Christiana Figueres: [00:05:12] Well, let’s remember that the U.S. and China managed to ring fence climate as a very positive relationship before Paris, despite the fact that they were having true deep differences on all other issues. So remains to be seen. Can they ring fence climate again?

Paul Dickinson: [00:05:36] I’m sure to super smart, big countries, they may have disputes about this in 2021 and that in 2022 and that in 2025. But they both understand 2050 has a meaning and they both understand 2100 as a meaning. And China can look back 5000 years of recorded history then neither of them going to muck about the big game. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:06:01] From your lips to,I’m not sure God’s ears, but certainly China and U.S. government ears.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:10] Paul has remarkable influence in places we can only guess. So, Paul, what do you got?

Paul Dickinson: [00:06:14] Well, I was a little bit worried about things in the United States, domestic things. Grist  have reported the American Legislative Exchange Council have been looking at trying to undermine the Bush administration’s rules on executive orders to combat greenhouse gas emissions. And I was just looking at this whole debate and they were sort of saying, the Republicans want this. And I’m like, I just I don’t know if there really are any Republicans. You know, I think what we have is business trading. You know, you’ve heard me say this before, but I’ve got a practical twist on it. But there’s a big part of me, saying just forget government. You know, companies control government. They can spend any amount of money to control government. You have to control the companies. So thing with ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council, is a lot of business money trying to stop greenhouse gas emissions regulations. And what I wanted to say to listeners is, you know what, actually, it’s not maybe so difficult to control companies. They have things like brands which they will go to incredible lengths to protect. They have investors who are always looking for information about what’s good or bad about the companies that they invest in. So they’re probably much more sensitive to focused attention than you might realize. But I think that people have to do the digging. They have to find out which companies are funding efforts to undermine the Biden administration’s greenhouse gas actions, and then they need to use wit and wisdom. You know, one of my favorite comedians is John Oliver, who produces a very funny show Last Week Tonight on TV in the US, but he entertains you with the stories of what’s wrong. And that’s how you get viral forces, which I think can really help focus people’s attention on writing these wrongs. But just looking at the government may not be the whole story. You need to look at kind of who’s influencing and controlling the government with crazy amounts of money.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:11] But I mean, this whole ALEC stuff is I mean, I agree with you, but it’s just outrageous. They’ve been doing this for years. I remember looking into this sort of several years ago when I was still working with you, Paul, at CDP. We were looking at lobbying efforts. And ALEC, even then, word that one of the worst perpetrators and if I remember rightly, what they would do is they would draft anti renewable energy laws and then they would go round with those drafts and present them to busy state legislators across the U.S. and say, hey, here’s a pre written law. We’ve just prepared it for you. You can just introduce it into legislation. And it was an incredibly effective tactic. I mean, the fact that they’re still going on and getting away with that when there have been many corporations have actually pulled out of ALEC in the intervening kind of 10 years, haven’t they? It’s true, but they’re still up to this. I mean, do you think they still are able to have an impact?

Paul Dickinson: [00:08:58] Look, lots of corporations have pulled out of ALEC. But I mean, this also happens at the US Chamber of Commerce. You know, I have a friend who has told me that essentially, you know, politicians are funded depending upon the degree to which they support bills or they support these kinds of regulations. And I mean, the people in the climate change committee, you haven’t got all the jolly tech companies and FMCG companies in the climate change group. It’s just kind of oil and gas or coal or whatever else. So the point being,  industry lobbies in an extremely focused way, it funds politicians who need that industry money to get re-elected. And until we as a society get together and stop that money corrupting our politics, you know the craziest thing I’ve ever heard is economists talk about market failure. It’s not a market failure. It’s allowing young children to play with very dangerous things, unsupervised failure. That’s what it is.

 

Christiana Figueres: [00:09:54] And Paul so, what is the first step in that? Is the first step transparency on funding? Who are they getting their funding from?

Paul Dickinson: [00:10:04] Yeah, I think that’s probably exactly right. I mean, it’s unbelievably crazy. I’ve mentioned it before multiple times. Lots of people know it. In 2010, the US Supreme Court said it’s absolutely vital and legal for corporations to spend any amount of money, deranging the political process and there’s no supervision. And that was called the Citizens United ruling. You can look it up. Is there President Obama at the time just couldn’t believe this disaster that had befallen the US nation. But basically currently there’s no way to stop corporations pouring money into politics. So what we have to do is we have to highlight which corporations are funding who and get to the bottom of it. And it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely worth it. And one more thing I just say, because I’m on a roll, if some company produces something fine, you know, I will admit that I like Diet Coke. It’s one of my favorite drinks. I buy Diet Coke. Now, if a company makes me a can of Diet Coke or 100 cans a year or a thousand cans a year, it’s fine. It’s a can made of recyclable aluminum. But the key point in my story is if a company sells like billions or tens of billions or hundreds of billions of cans of Diet Coke, it doesn’t matter. But if that company has got just crazy amounts of money, like little individual citizens, can’t imagine how much money a really big company has got if they then spend that money without limitation to subvert the political process. We’ve lost our politics. And unfortunately, that’s kind of where we are at the moment. So we’ve got to get to the bottom of that money, as Christiana so wisely advises.

Christiana Figueres: [00:11:47] Well, we’ve spoken several times on this podcast about how sadly we have companies that have taken on climate targets that are decarbonising their products, their services. They’re joining coalitions that are doing the same, et cetera, with the front foot and with the back foot either they haven’t noticed or they’re intentionally with the back foot pouring money into these lobbying associations. We’ve talked about this quite a bit. And when we’ve asked CEOs about this on the podcast, their immediate reaction is, no, we’re no longer doing that. So that tells us that transparency in that kind of funding actually leads to behavior change. So transparency is definitely the first step. You can’t prohibit them from doing that. But they know that it’s not very popular with their customers and their clients and certainly not with young people. And therefore, they just might change their behavior.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:12:55] And I mean, you can’t really get away with that kind of duplicity for long in a way. If you think about the court of public opinion, the fact they need to encourage young minds to participate. So hopefully, as that becomes well known, legislation or regulation will be the last straw that is needed. Because it will solve itself. We’ve got to move on. But, Paul, what do you think about that?

Paul Dickinson: [00:13:17] Well, Clay’s just reminded us of Mitch McConnell’s comment about companies kind of pulling out of Georgia or punishing Georgia for supporting this kind of voting regulation change, which appears to be kind of designed to discourage people from voting. And Mitch McConnell said, corporations should stay out of politics. But that’s the biggest joke I’ve ever heard in the world, because if Mitch McConnell accepts and I think he would, you know, he’s a logical grown up person if he’s listening. Mitch, would you admit corporations are putting unlimited money into politics?

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:13:53] He said I’m not talking about political contributions in the same interview.

Paul Dickinson: [00:13:58] Ok, well, that shows a very high degree of this whole thing. Two completely opposing things at the same time, it’s basically insane to make those two statements. And we’ve got to have a slightly more sophisticated politics where you call out. It’s a cheap shot to say that Democrats believe differently to Republicans. This is money corrupting things. It’s not a political fight between two parties.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:22] Yeah, so I wanted to bring an example of where a government has done something, I think, and we’ll discuss it. But maybe it is impressive and it’s certainly surprising. And I, for one, wasn’t anticipating it. So listeners may have seen this, but we’re recording this podcast on Tuesday. And just a few days ago on Saturday, French lawmakers voted to abolish domestic flights on routes that can be covered by train in under two and a half hours. The government, of course, is seeking to lower emissions even as the travel industry comes back from the global pandemic as part of a broader climate bill to cut French carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels. What’s interesting is a couple of things. One is the vote came just days after France said that it would contribute four billion euros to recapitalising Air France, massively increasing its stake in the airline and becoming its largest shareholder I understand and also that this law actually originated in a really interesting process, part of a citizen’s climate forum that was established by Macron to shape climate policy. They had actually called for the scrapping of flights on routes where the train journey is less than four hours. What’s come through is two and a half. But I mean, we can criticize that because it should have gone further. But fascinating that this has well, it hasn’t happened yet. It passed one chamber. It’s got to go through the other chamber and then to the executive in order to be made into a law. But a country has said you cannot take short haul flights, you have to go by train. Once we have that on the books, other countries might follow suit. We might see that the time period expands, et cetera. So I’m very curious, what do you two think about this development?

Christiana Figueres: [00:16:08] So I’m going to go first because Paul loves trains and he will never stop talking about it. So I want to get my five cents in. It just makes extraordinary sense right away from an emissions perspective. But also just think of the practicality of this. By the time you get yourself to an airport and check in and do security and wait for the flight to take off and arrive and then go through whatever you have to go through on the other side, you’re definitely down two and a half hours, if not more so. And you probably arrive anywhere except the center of the city where you’re going. So just from a practicality point of view, just just makes so much sense in addition to the greenhouse emissions. And that’s what I like about it, because honestly, the policies will not be very popular if the only reason is a greenhouse gas reduction argument. But if the greenhouse gas reduction argument basically comes alongside other benefits, direct benefits to the user, then we have actually very strong policies that will probably have quite a bit of uptake.

Paul Dickinson: [00:17:29] It’s absolutely brilliant. Laws we like. Please listeners go and get this law passed in your country because it’s brilliant. Christiana has pointed out it makes perfect sense. I love electric trains. My grandpa wrote a book called Electric Trains in 1927. Thank you, Grandpa, you’ll never guess what the book was about. But here’s the thing, right? This law is just so simple. The French got it through perhaps because the government happens to own a majority of the airline might make it easier to push the law through. But I mean, come along friends. You know, we tax things we don’t like. It’s very simple, right? And we regulate things we don’t like. You know, you can’t go 200 miles an hour on the motorway because you’re going to smash another car on the freeway and you know no good. So just copy this law around the world and what’s to not like? And, you know, let’s have more laws we like.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:18:21] And do we think I mean, there’s quite a bit of handwringing in France to say actually, and I don’t have the exact numbers here, but if it had been a four hour ban, you know, if the trip had to be less than four hours in order for the equivalent flight to be banned, then it would have had a real impact on a much larger number of trips in France and more of a CO2 impact. I’m split on that. I can see that would have been better from a climate perspective. But in a way, it almost feels to me the important thing here is the principle and maybe it can get nibbled up over time. What do you think?

Paul Dickinson: [00:18:51] Yeah, we’re opening the door. We’re pushing open the door. You know, it starts off four hours then it gets down to maybe two and a half hours and you know, you get those laws in place, they start off and then we just ratchet them up, ratchet them up, ratchet them up. It’s like banning smoking in restaurants or on the underground or something. It’s a first step. But, you know, you move on, it’s beautiful.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:19] You agree, Christiana?

Christiana Figueres: [00:19:20] Yep. Have to start where you are and then move it up.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:24] Start where you are. Momentum is the key to transformation. Right. Anything else anyone wants to say before we move to our very exciting guest,

Paul Dickinson: [00:19:32] I can’t resist one other tiny little comment. And it relates actually. The UK government has been criticised for withdrawing a scheme involved in insulating properties. And it turns out that I’m involved in a small installation company. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:47] Heard rumours that you moonlight as a double glazing salesman.

Paul Dickinson: [00:19:50] That I do sell double glazing, actually, at least my friends do in a company called Mitchell and Dickinson. It bears my name. We insulate period properties, shameless advertising. I owe the podcast money. But the point of my story, I spoke to the wonderful woman who runs it, Simonne, and she said the problem with the government scheme, and this is really the point I wanted to make to listeners, is in her words, it was too bureaucratic, but not enough care. And it was probably outsourced but there weren’t people with enough knowledge of the scheme and the administrative level was not really with sufficient competence. And so, you know, some people were getting certificates who shouldn’t have got them and other people were finding it impossible. So and then the government withdrew the scheme. I even got a letter in the Financial Times because the government announced the scheme three months before they introduced it. So all our sales dropped to nothing. OK, so the lessons here for governments around the world and people who want these schemes because we do need government schemes to insulate our homes, are, plan them before you announce them. Make sure you’ve got high quality administration and people with knowledge and care and then it’ll be successful. Thank you. End of speech.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:01] Mitchell and Dickinson sounds like a sort of high end lawyer, but it’s actually insulation, double glazing, is that correct?

Paul Dickinson: [00:21:08] Well, you don’t want to start me on this. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:21:11] No, no, no. I definitely don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:16] Yeah, right. So we have a really exciting interview for you today. I think everybody’s going to really enjoy it. Now, you may not have heard of Jojo Mehta before today, but you will be certainly looking her up after you’ve heard this interview. She co-founded Stop Ecocide in 2017 with the late Polly Higgins after many years spent as an activist, a grassroots environmental campaigner after Polly very sadly passed away in 2016, Jojo has continued that work and is now working to secure a legal definition of ecocide, which she hopes will be adopted as a fifth crime in the Roman statute of the International Criminal Court. She’s chair of the charitable Stop Ecocide Foundation, convenor of the Independent Expert Panel for the legal definition of ecocide, chaired by Philippe Sands QC and Dior Fall Sow. And Jojo has overseen the growth of the movement in 15 countries across continents, websites in 9 languages, coordinated between legal departments, diplomatic traction and a range of other different issues. It’s a really interesting concept, ecocide. You’re about to learn about it if you haven’t heard about it before. Now, we talk a lot in this podcast about how fabulous it is to be in Costa Rica. Obviously wonderful country, a very interesting and abundant fauna, along with everything else. I mean, who knows what’s going to happen? You could be giving an interview and then, for example, a white faced capuchin monkey could jump down and try and steal the microphone. That happens in this interview.

Paul Dickinson: [00:22:44] Look out for it.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:22:46] Hope you enjoy this conversation. And we will be back afterwards with more comments.

Christiana Figueres: [00:22:55] Jojo, what a pleasure to have you. Thank you very much for coming on with us on Outrage + Optimism. Jojo, you have devoted a serious chunk of your professional life to ecocide, but very possibly our listeners don’t even know where it is. So can we start at the very beginning? Can you tell us the story behind ecocide? Who first coined the term? Where does it come from? And why have you devoted so much of your energy and time and passion to this?

Jojo Mehta: Well, this story begins in 1970 when a biologist called Arthur Galston, who helped develop a defoliate chemical called Agent Orange that was used in the Vietnam War, decided that he was horrified by what had been done with it. And he coined the term ecocide to describe the devastation that was created by that chemical weapon. It was then first used on the international stage at the first UN environment conference in Stockholm in 1972. And it was the leader Olof Palme from Sweden who used the term ecocide to describe destruction of the natural environment and who called for the international community to look at that as a term and to address it. And over the subsequent decades, there was a focus kind of behind the scenes, politically and legally, almost constantly on addressing ecosystem destruction. But it never quite came to the fore politically until relatively recently when it was resurrected by the woman who I worked very closely with, my dear friend Polly Higgins.

Christiana Figueres: And tell us Polly’s story shortly, because that’s also a story.

Jojo Mehta: [00:24:49] Absolutely. So Polly was embarking on a lucrative courtroom career as a barrister herself She had a kind of epiphany moment looking out for the Royal Courts of Justice in London and realizing that it wasn’t just her clients that needed a good lawyer, but it was the earth itself. And she asked herself a single simple question, how do we create a legal duty of care for the earth? And that set her on a quest that was to take her the rest of her life. Now, Polly is no longer with us. She died two years ago, but her quest took her  firstly through looking at the rights of nature. And there’s now quite a global movement to support the rights of nature and the idea of giving legal personhood to parts of the natural world forests, rivers, mountains and so on. But what she realized in the course of her research was that rights is only one side of the story, the other side, the side of responsibility, that is kind of the complement to that is provided by criminal law. So just as our basic right is the right to life as humans, a basic human right is the right to life. But what protects that right is the fact that killing us, killing each other is a crime. So murder is a crime and that protects our right to life. And so she then realized that criminal law is actually the protective side of law. And when she started investigating, she found that when the International Criminal Court first came into existence and the draft of the Rome Statute, which governs that court, was being discussed, there was originally a clause in that draft to cover serious environmental destruction and that it never made the final cut. And the three crimes that came into existence with the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute were –

Christiana Figueres: [00:26:37] Get out of here. It’s this huge monkey again.  

Paul Dickinson: Christiana the monkey has as much right to life as you do. Why are you perpetrating this low level ecocide?

Christiana Figueres: I’m not taking his, his or her right of life away, I am only protecting my microphone!

Paul Dickinson: OK, fair enough. Sorry. Back to normal.

Christiana Figueres: Sorry, Jojo.

Jojo Mehta: [00:27:05] No please. Not at all. So yes, the crimes that came into existence in the Rome Statute in 1998 and with the beginnings of the International Criminal Court or the ICC, which came into existence in 2002, were genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. And so what Polly dedicated the rest of her life to was effectively what she saw as restoring the missing crime to the Rome Statute, in other words, to international criminal law. And that’s what she spent the rest of her life doing. And I joined her for the last four and a half years of that life. And since she passed away, I’ve been kind of heading up this campaign that is now becoming a really quite a broad global movement that has been a huge acceleration in interest in this whole concept.

Christiana Figueres: [00:27:59] And part of that acceleration, I’ll come back to the ICC because I really want to understand that choice to go through the ICC, but part of that acceleration, Jojo, is this panel that is now on its way to collectively define ecocide. And they are scheduled to come up with a collective definition by June of this year. Is that correct?

Jojo Mehta: [00:28:24] That’s absolutely right. So in November of last year, our foundation, the Stop Ecocide Foundation, convened a panel of top international criminal lawyers and environmental lawyers from all around the world to work on drafting a robust, clear and credible legal definition of ecocide. There have been working definitions in the past. Polly Higgins created one in 2010, which she used over the years that she was working and there have been others. But the difference on this occasion is that this was prompted by a political request. So from members of parliament in Sweden, members of parliament from the ruling parties approached us and said, this is obviously your area of expertise. Would you be able to convene or commission or bring together a definition, a legal definition that could actively be considered by states for potential proposal to amend the Rome Statute? And on the basis of that request, we were able to convene some really top legal talent, including Phillipe Sands QC and Dior Fall Sow from Senegal, a jurist and legal scholar. And those two are now chairing that panel. And that panel is in the middle of its work and it’s due to report at the beginning of June, as you say.

Christiana Figueres: [00:29:40] So Jojo, sitting at the feet of these eminent lawyers and judges explained to help me understand two things that I don’t understand, both of which have to do with the ICC. My first question is, the ICC is mandated to look at war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and since 2018, the crime of aggression. I understand that what you’re trying to do here is to add ecocide as a crime in the ICC. Now there’s two pieces, I don’t understand. One is, am I right in understanding that the ICC can actually only charge an individual, not a state, not a government? And so doesn’t that make it even more difficult, A, to have to define ecocide and then to put together charges against an individual who may be pretty well protected? And Paul would talk to us about that because the ICC is different to the International Court of Justice, that could find a state guilty. The ICC can only find an individual guilty. So that’s my first question. And the second question and the reason why I ask you both is because I think they’re interrelated. The second question is, genocide is definitely a crime that is accepted by everyone and often charged in the ICC. But it doesn’t stop genocide, as we see in Myanmar and Ethiopia today. So how do you see this, the choice of going through the ICC? How do you see it progressing on to finding individuals that can be charged? And how does that charge of individuals act as a deterrent, although certainly not a guarantee, as we see in Myanmar and Ethiopia for genocide issues, how does it act as a powerful deterrent? Because I think that’s what you’re trying to do, a powerful deterrence of those who would commit ecocide.

Jojo Mehta: [00:31:31] Yeah, those are great questions. And I think it comes back to the particular route that we pursue at the ICC. There are three reasons behind that. There are probably several, but there are three key ones. One reason for approaching the ICC is that it’s the only global mechanism that directly accesses the criminal justice systems of all of its member states. So if you make something a crime at the ICC, any member state that ratifies it has to include it in its own domestic legislation. So it doesn’t require a separate court like the European Court of Human Rights is not a separate treaty. Effectively, you add something to the Rome Statute, you’re actually directly accessing the criminal justice systems that already exist. So in response to your first question. Yes, it is geared to individuals. But of course, the national criminal justice systems are also geared to individuals. And what we’re looking for with criminalising ecocide or mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, broadly defined, is the key decision makers. So as with genocide, you’re not aiming at end users, citizens, consumers, what you’re aiming at, just like you wouldn’t aim for the foot soldiers with genocide, you’re aiming for the controlling minds and the same would go for ecocide. So you’d be looking for key decision makers. Those could potentially be CEOs or government ministers and so on. So you are looking for individuals and that is precisely one of the things that is important in creating a deterrent.

[00:33:03] I mean, as you’ll know, Christiana, there are so many already climate litigation cases going on around the world. There are well over fifteen hundred, I believe, in process around the world. And those are very important in terms of creating evidence, in terms of naming and shaming, in terms of sort of creating a moral effect in the public eye and so on, and also creating some kind of compensation and justice for victims in some cases. But what those climate litigation cases don’t do is actually change corporate practice, whereas a CEO is going to think very carefully before engaging in an activity that might constitute an international crime. Because, perhaps even unlike a war criminal, a CEO is going to care very deeply about how they’re perceived because the success of their business and their share price depend very directly on it. So that is a very key aspect in regard to your first question and in regard to your second question about genocide. Yes, it has not completely prevented genocide, having genocide as an international crime, but in the same way, people still commit murder. But we wouldn’t dream of saying murder shouldn’t be a crime. Effectively, we do still have a situation where there’s a missing normative. And actually that’s one of the other key reasons for aiming for an international crime, because it creates a kind of moral sense from the highest level that it’s wrong to seriously destroy ecosystems.

Paul Dickinson: [00:34:39] Well, let me jump in with a question. Well, a little story leading to a question. I remember being really kind of embarrassed once because I asked a super smart lawyer, I said, what’s the legal definition of the public interest? And they looked at me and said, well, there isn’t one. And I was like, of course. So the thing is, then I was looking into lead, petrol and asbestos and what I discovered was the courts always sort of say, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s legal, it’s legal until there’s thousands of us in the streets. And then the court suddenly says, no, that’s not legal anymore. So the courts are kind of like a pressure valve to stop a civil war. And so I guess my question to you is, to what degree do you think we’re kind of making up norms of society by combining legal arguments with public demonstrations such that we create a new atmosphere about what is and what is not acceptable, such that even before laws are produced, they can discourage people or allow people to see the unacceptability of their behavior. Is that part of it?

Jojo Mehta: [00:35:47] That’s a very big part of it. And I’m really glad you brought that up, because I think one of the things that’s one of the key factors behind the acceleration of this movement to criminalize ecocide has been the climate mobilization of the people coming onto the streets, whether that’s Extinction Rebellion or whether it’s Greta Thunberg inspiring the school strikes. Those grassroots movements and those disruptions at street level have absolutely been key for us, because what they’ve done is they’ve created a level of disruption and polarization that’s opened up a window of conversation in the media and in political life, which has meant that what we’ve ultimately been saying for years is now finally being heard. And so there is a very direct correlation between those two things. And actually our foundation kind of sits in an interesting position in that way because we are obviously deeply involved in the legal developments at the moment, but also with the political traction and of course, with the public narrative as well. And what we’re finding is that actually those different areas do influence each other quite strongly.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:53] So can I just ask you something slightly different about the logic of the Paris Agreement has been constructed on the basis of shared benefit. And it was constructed like that because in part because previous agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, you know, there were these punitive measures. If you didn’t meet your targets, what happened in reality as countries just pulled out of the agreement the day before they weren’t going to meet them and they were never able to be kind of implemented in the way that people envisaged that they would be when the protocol was developed. So as a result, Paris was constructed differently with a series of self-determined measures, with the idea that this would create a kind of a race to the top of more technology, more momentum, etcetera. Now, you’ve been very critical of the Paris Agreement and you said it’s failing because the next round of NDCs is not in line with where we need to get to. And that’s a fact. And it remains to be seen whether those entities will be strengthened sufficiently over time to get us to where we need to. But we’re in a very perilous place. So obviously, the logic of ecocide is the opposite end of the sort of philosophical debate. And I’m just wondering how you see those two things fit together, because in part, the Paris Agreement, the diplomacy that was behind it, was constructive because of this principle of equity, that the history of climate change is not fair, that some countries have done more to cause it than others. How would ecocide interact with that existing process? And how would it be a tool that had sufficient nuance to take account for some of that history?

Jojo Mehta: [00:38:20] I think that’s a brilliant question. And I think this is a kind of a hand in hand kind of approach in a way that is how we see this working, because the Paris Agreement is obviously hugely important in the sense that it’s the first time that so much of the world has committed to such an agreement that if we do too much of A it leads to B. So I mean, just from a legal perspective, that’s creating prior knowledge in the sense that, nobody can then say, oh, well, I didn’t know that A going to lead to B. But at the same time, as you say with the latest report, the entity synthesis report, we’re looking at the current commitments simply not being adequate, simply not actually reaching those targets. And the way that we see ecocide law in relation to that is almost like a kind of a guardrail, introducing an enforceable legal parameter for the worst excesses of environmentally destructive activity so that we start to create a kind of a steer or a course correction, because what we find quite difficult to imagine are the ambitions that are really needed in regards to the Paris Agreement and in regard to the Sustainable Development Goals, know how those are going to be materialized just out of goodwill.

Jojo Mehta: [00:39:36] The idea with ecocide is to create almost a kind of a safety barrier that kind of says this far, and no further, that actually starts to steer business in the right direction and corporate practice. And I think that also we have to look at the fact that it will take some time to put this law in place. And that’s actually very important. It shouldn’t be done overnight. It can’t be done overnight. It would create chaos. But if there’s a transition period or a period that it takes where we can see that coming and government and the corporate sector could see it coming over the horizon, what this then transforms into is a question of compliance pathways and transition policies and all of that is what the Paris Agreement is ultimately wanting to nudge states into. And this, in a way, is what we believe would seriously help to corral that into existence.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:40:29] So if I understand that correctly, it would sort of play a kind of backstop role which is missing at the moment, from the international infrastructure, that there would still be an expectation of a race to the top, innovation. But for those that fell materially behind in a demonstrable way from where they needed to be, there would be this backstop where there would be this other route to try to get them to move. What do you think about that, Christiana?

Christiana Figueres: [00:40:54] Well, I’m interested that you interpret it as a backstop. I was thinking the Paris Agreement sort of sets a direction, the long term direction and we’re moving in that direction pathetically slowly.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: That’s right.

Christiana Figueres: And so what I was seeing, Jojo, but let me know if this works for you, what if we think about this system as a long canoe with the direction that we’ve all agreed to and the canoe needs to speed up. And what ecocide if is agreed in the ICC would do, is it would be an additional or that accelerates the canoe down the direction of the flow of the river that we know we have to go, but it’s just too slow. So is it an accelerator? We’ve talked about it before as being a deterrent, which is a negative part of it. I’m wondering if at the same time, can it be an accelerator of action? Do you see it as that or do you see it only as a deterrent or a backstop, in Tom’s words?

Jojo Mehta: [00:42:07] We actually kind of see it as both. But certainly we believe it will be an accelerator because, in fact, one of the things we get asked most often is who would you want to see in the dock under this law? And actually, I came into this work from on the ground activism. And if you’d asked me a few years ago, I probably would have given you a list of names. 

Christiana Figueres: A long list of names.

Jojo Mehta: [00:42:31] But actually where we are now is very much not that place. My answer to that is we don’t want to see anyone in the dock and we don’t want to see anyone in the dock, because what we want to see is the whole kind of change of direction of corporate practice to actually take this into account. I know Nigel Topping talks about, in the whole Race to Zero context, talks about the players and how we play the game and so on. And actually what we’re looking at with ecocide is actually changing the rules of the game so that you’re looking at a new addition to the bottom line. So instead of looking at what you can do with your business, that will not kill anybody, because obviously that’s where we draw the moral line. That’s a criminal law. How can we engage in what we do with our business without killing anybody and without seriously destroying ecosystems? It’s like an additional kind of moral caveat that has to go in there because of the criminal law. And so, yes, we do absolutely see that as an accelerator, because the other thing is that, in a way the climate crisis is the symptom of which decades of ecocide are the cause.

Paul Dickinson: [00:43:39] So Jojo, you mentioned corporations, which is kind of my thing, because I’m in a strange relationship with corporations. I think they’re wonderful and they frighten me and all the rest of it. But I think one of the problems with this is you may not notice, but Tom and I have a fairly large chemicals factory and we sometimes go down to the river and throw chemicals in the river. Luckily, we haven’t been caught by the police yet, but if we get caught by the police once, I think we’ll probably go to court. We might get a fine. But if we keep getting caught by the police. Night after night, throwing chemicals in the river, I think that eventually they’re going to send Tom and I to prison. But the funny thing is, if we were a company, I believe we would be able to continually dump in the river, and as long as we continue to pay the fines, there isn’t a prison system. I remember I saw a banner once saying, I’ll believe corporations are humans when Texas executes one of them. So my real question is, do you think ecocide can help to pierce the corporate veil, introduce these notions of personal liability? Because it strikes me that we all know massive damage is being done to our ecosystem. We all know that cannot be in humanity’s interests, we’re smashing up the life support system that keeps us all alive. And yet there doesn’t appear to be a legal basis for stopping that. Have you found one?

Jojo Mehta: [00:45:04] Well, we believe that ecocide law has the potential to do this, perhaps where things have failed in the past in the sense that because it acts as a sort of personal deterrent to those in key positions, they don’t get to hide behind the corporate veil in the way that that currently works, as you say, where corporations just simply end up with fines. And the way that corporations treat environmental regulation, which is where most of environmental law sits. Of course, there are environmental crimes as well. But most environmental laws, regulatory and corporations sort of treat it as an externality. So the damage to nature is something to be sort of got around to pay your lawyers to kind of work out how to move around those regulations and perhaps operate in other jurisdictions if they’re less restrictive and all of that sort of thing. But as soon as you introduce a criminal law and somebody’s personal freedom is potentially on the line, it does make a difference. And in fact, there was a study, I believe, that was done in Colorado University a few years ago. I must look up the actual details of it. But one of the things that they found was that if you change regulation, you change budgeting at the corporate level, whereas if you change criminal law, you start to change behaviour. 

 

Paul Dickinson: I’ll go for behaviour over budgeting every time.

Jojo Mehta: [00:46:22] So it’s about the impunity, it’s about removing the impunity.

Paul Dickinson: Ok, so a little game now if we may, can Tom and Christiana say goodbye and then I’ll ask you our final question? But it’s just they’ve got a hard stop and I haven’t.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: We’re very sorry we have to stop in two minutes, but this has been amazing. Thank you so much. It’s absolutely wonderful. Really, really appreciate it.

Paul Dickinson: Why don’t you say goodbye, Christiana?

Christiana Figueres: [00:46:26] Thank you for the phrase that you just used. The two of you, Paul and Jojo, removing impunity. I really want to underline that. That is what we’re pursuing here, to remove impunity, whether anybody goes to the dock or not, it is actually removing that sense or even the perception of impunity. I can do this and there’s no consequence. Such a huge contribution, Jojo. 

Paul Dickinson: [00:46:57] So can I bring you, Jojo, to our last question that we do like to ask all of our guests, and that is when you look at the state of the world, what’s going on, and when you think of the work yourself and many others are doing in these related fields, are you more outraged or more optimistic? Where do you see yourself on that scale?

Jojo Mehta: [00:47:18] I’m fundamentally optimistic, but I would also say that I come from the world of activism and I don’t know a single activist that hasn’t entered that arena because of outrage. And I think that outrage is the starting point, but optimism is what’s actually going to drive us forward, because I don’t believe you can bring a solution into existence unless you believe it’s possible. And that’s a fundamentally optimistic position.

Paul Dickinson: [00:47:43] That’s very, very true. You’ve got to have a dream or you can’t have a dream come true.

Jojo Mehta: Exactly.

Paul Dickinson: Jojo, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. Great to talk to you. And good luck with your inspiring work.

Jojo Mehta: Thank you so much.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:48:05] So how interesting to get to sit with Jojo Mehta, to hear about ecocide? Obviously a concept that has really built momentum in the world and one that so many people feel a deep sense of attraction to and a sense that this is the kind of justice we’ve been seeking on this destruction of the natural habitat of the planet. What did you guys take from that conversation?

Christiana Figueres: [00:48:27] Well, speaking of natural habitat, can we just pause for a second, and address my little capuchin friend, because I mean, these capuchins or white faces, are really pretty amazing. They are very aggressive. They will forage all day long from early morning to late at night. They are omnivorous and they are completely fearless. They will come up to astonishing closeness to you and try to steal anything that looks like appetizing food. Why my little microphone, maybe was because it was a small microphone as opposed to my usual larger microphone, was so enticing to them I have no idea. But honestly, they’re actually a little bit scary and they like to scare you. So they will, you know, do this funny little noise where all their teeth show, which is not that they’re smiling at you, they’re actually wanting to intimidate you. They’re really pretty scary. I did survive and my microphone survived.

Paul Dickinson: [00:49:36] I’m totally seeing it from the point of view of the monkey. It’s looking at you and you’re looking at this microphone. It’s kind of like, well, look, if she’s not going to eat it, I’m going to eat it. You know what I mean? Make your mind up I’m hungry. You don’t want it. Fine. Looks good. Big black berry.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:49:50] Absolutely I mean, amazing creatures. But what do you take from Jojo Mehta?

Christiana Figueres: [00:49:56] Yes. Let’s get back to task here.

Paul Dickinson: [00:49:58] Well, I mean, I’m incredibly interested in any notion of using law, which is a very peculiar thing in our society. But I mean, we clearly all depend on it. Society is almost defined by laws, but considering how laws might evolve better for us to consider the wholesale destruction of habitats, I mean, that’s that’s an entirely legitimate avenue for law. And I have no idea I’m not a legal expert, the degree to which it might be brought into effect in the near future to cause, you know, lawsuits. But I think that the demonstration effect of people considering this and using this kind of language may dissuade people from rash actions that significantly undermine the environment.

Christiana Figueres: [00:50:50] So I must admit that when we started, I was a little bit doubtful about the strategy. First, because I thought, why go through the ICC? As I mentioned to her, the International Court of Criminal Court can only pursue individuals. It cannot judge a state. And I just thought that’s really an interesting approach where you have another approach, which is the international court. So why didn’t they go there? And my other question was, well, but if you tried to bring evidence against a CEO, for example, Paul Dickinson has spent years lecturing us about how all CEOs actually have all kinds of insurance that protects them from such legal attacks. And so I would say, well, in that case, they’re immune to anything that the ICC could do. And my third concern was they are so swamped, the ICC moves very slowly and they are completely swamped and it can take years to bring any case. And do we have the years? So all of that was going through my mind. Now, during and after the conversation with her, I actually moved over to see it from her perspective, because I think two things really hit me. One, as she explains that once the fifth crime, let’s remember that five war crimes are already recognized by the ICC, but once this is recognized as the fifth crime, then any member states that ratify that would have to include it in their own domestic legislation. That’s pretty interesting. And the second bit that I thought was very interesting was her point about the end of impunity, because once this is recognized as an international crime, well, then it really is, I would hope, a very strong deterrent. It’s not a guarantee, as we know, because it will continue to happen hopefully at a lower scale. But it does serve as a deterrent because who wants to publicly be associated with something that has been recognized as an international crime? So I thought that it’s an interesting tactic or strategy that they’re using to criminalize ecocide.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:53:36] So I agree with everything you just said there and the other thing I would add is there are a million reasons why this might not happen. And everybody she talks to must be aware of them. Right. How do you define it? How do you get it adopted? How does it translate into international law? And that onslaught. And we know that right from Paris and other things we have done in our lives, is very exhausting. And I was really impressed at how she sort of just absorbed that and said, yes, it’s difficult. There’s a series of problems, but here’s our opportunity. We’ve got to try and do it. And she remained very flexible, very circumspect about the role that this could play vis a vis other things. She saw that she had a shot. I think the idea if it were to be implemented and I don’t really feel qualified to comment on whether it will be or not, but it should be, and she’s got a shot and she’s taking that shot and good on her because that’s what we need, people willing to take a chance on those sorts of things if we’re going to make progress. So thank God for Jojo Mehta.

Christiana Figueres: [00:54:37] Yes, seriously. It strikes me that with what Jojo’s trying to do, we have a David and Goliath situation. And I think she is very aware of the Goliath forces against her. And that doesn’t stop her, as Tom has said. And, you know, we’re actually at the point where we need many, many Davids who are not intimidated by Goliath and who have the courage and the stamina and the determination to stand up for what they believe in, for what they know is right, and in particular for what needs to be changed. So kudos to her. And I guess a shout out to so many other Davids and Davidinas who are out there standing up against very, very difficult forces because we know it’s the right thing to do.

Paul Dickinson: [00:55:36] Hear, hear.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:55:37] Absolutely.

Paul Dickinson: [00:55:37] As Anita Roddick used to say, if you don’t think something small can affect something big, spend a night in a sleeping bag with a mosquito. But here’s the thing. Christina has actually nailed something extremely important, this notion of directors and officers liability insurance. And you know what? These policies, what if they said, you know, if you pour a million tons of the wrong thing into the river, you’re not covered. What if those policies said if you clear cut a million acres of the forest, you’re not covered? It could be that the people writing those insurance policies have the power to protect the entire global ecosystem. So that’s something to think about. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:56:21] So would you say that would be step number two? You would have to recognize ecocide as an international crime and then insurance companies might have to recognize and make exceptions for those people who incur in that crime. They wouldn’t be covered. Is that what you’re saying?

Paul Dickinson: [00:56:36] To be honest, why not now? There’s a few companies, you can look them up. If they are providing directors and officers liability insurance, even today, even tomorrow, they could put out a renewal notice. If you’re cutting a million acres of clear forest, if you’re polluting oceans or rivers or whatever in some significant way, you may not be covered. That’s all I’ve got to say. And I think it could change the world.

Christiana Figueres: [00:57:03] It would be huge.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:57:06] And of course, that would be amazing. I mean, of course, if it wasn’t actually a law, that void could be filled by new players who would still provide the insurance. But if it was introduced at the ICC done deal, I mean, you can’t get insurance against committing genocide.

Paul Dickinson: [00:57:23] In all seriousness. I think people who run big companies, they they don’t necessarily know what’s happening. The companies are so big, but they kind of think, well, I’m kind of protected, but all the insurance has got to say is, well, you may not be protected and they may suddenly take much more interest in what’s happening. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:57:47] Anything else to say before we move on to our musical guest of the week?

Paul Dickinson: [00:57:48] Well, thank you to our listeners for wonderful reviews. And we’re going to read some more out next week. Much appreciated. We’ve gone on too long and are going to have to actually go to bed and look after his kid and not just edit this.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:58:02] Right. So as ever, we bring you a piece of music this week. This week it is from the musical artist Eliza Shaddad. She is a critically acclaimed Scottish Sudanese artist whose childhood saw her raised across seven countries and has single blossom is a celebration of spring and incorporates musical elements from her Sudanese heritage, characteristic strings and a jubilant traditional Sudanese call. It is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, where many of our listeners are. Hope you’re enjoying spring. Hope you enjoy this beautiful piece of music. Thank you very much for joining us. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Big one it’s the Earth Summit next week. We have a big guest!

Eliza Shaddad: [00:58:47] I think it’s important that artists engage with climate change and inequality and other social issues because it’s important that everybody engages with those things. I think it’s increasingly obvious how the impacts of lots of different things can affect people across the world for you. And if we don’t really seek and strive to understand it, then how are we going to change it? We’re also in the very privileged position to have a platform, however minor, from which to engage with people and kind of have discussions and suggest ways in which we can help others. So I think that it’s important to use that opportunity for everybody’s kid. 

[00:59:38] Things that make me feel optimistic are seeing spring come in, having a little time and space to really enjoy the world coming into bloom and relishing how beautiful it is, hearing about species rebounding with lower pollution levels and wildlife initiatives. And I guess looking around and seeing people enjoying nature and really connecting with it. I wrote this song after experiencing that glorious feeling when life starts to come back to life I guess. It was after a long, cold winter and it was the first day of really warm sunshine. And the plants were flowering and the flowers were blooming and everything was starting to smell nice. And I just got really wrapped up in that feeling of opening up to the world again.

Clay Carnill: [01:03:46] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. Blossom by Eliza Shaddad. This week I spent too much time (and by too much time I mean, not enough) looking up videos of her and her music. One thing that I discovered she supported Keane on their tour last year, I saw these iconic photos of her on her Instagram, just like her and her guitar. And he’s like massive crowds, like huge rooms she was playing before lockdown. And yet this tune that she recorded for us was so intimate. And I’m just kind of mesmerized by her right now, as I’m sure you are, too. As always, links to her music in the show notes. But I just want to mention she also has a Patreon. If you’re not familiar, Patreon is the new radical way to connect with creators, artists and musicians. I can’t recommend it enough. So go familiarize yourself with Patreon and go support Eliza. If in the future we have an artist that has a Patreon, I’m going to specifically link you to it. So for this episode, I’ve made Eliza’s Patreon the first link in her section of the show notes. Go, go, go. Check it out. Thank you, Eliza. Thank you to our guest this week, Jojo Mehta. It’s amazing the work that Stop Ecocide is doing. And I’ve been having conversations all week about ecocide with friends and family. There’s ways to support the Stop Ecocide campaign, including signing a petition and becoming an Earth protector. You can add that to your resume. Go to stopecocide.earth to learn more, get involved.

Paul Dickinson: [01:05:25] But you know why type it when you can click it? Into the show notes. It’s all there. Okay. Before I thank our team, I did want to read one review we got this week because it’s just a few words. OK, this review is from coolgirl656, best screen name. The title is ‘Great!’. The rating is five stars and the review reads just as follows. Very informative. I love this review. Don’t get me wrong, we read every single review. We love it when you write a paragraph because we read it. But if any of you who are listening want to leave us a single word, two word, three word, five star review, OK, if it’s three words or less, I will read it in the credits. I didn’t tell anybody else on the team that I’m doing this, so this is a spur of the moment inspiration thing. So don’t let me down, OK credits, Outrage + Optimism. Is a Global Optimism production. Global Optimism is Sara Law, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Marina Mansilla Hermann, Sophie McDonald, Freya Newman, Sarah Thomas, Sue Reid and Jon Ward. Our Executive Producer is Sharon Johnson and our Producer is Clay Carnill. That’s me. And our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Tom, good to have you back. OK, that is a wrap. Not sure you heard, but we have a big guest next week. I had the privilege of meeting him last year. Nice guy. Hit subscribe so you don’t miss. We’ll see you then.