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The International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands prosecutes only four categories of crime: genocide, crimes against humanity, the crime of aggression, and war crimes.

But in June, an international panel of lawyers proposed a definition of a new type of international crime.

“I can summarize it,” says Alex Whiting of Harvard Law School, who served on the panel. “And what the definition says is that causing widespread, severe or long-lasting damage to the environment is the crime of ‘ecocide.’”

Whiting says that for the International Criminal Court to prosecute people for crimes of ecocide, nations will need to adopt and ratify an amendment to the court’s charter. Getting to that point could take years of debate and deliberation.

“Getting states to agree to this – to bind themselves to an international agreement, to an international crime – is a long, complicated process,” he says. “But getting started … is important.”

He says already, the work they’ve done to define ecocide as an international crime is motivating nations to think about their own environmental laws.

And it’s sparking debate about new ways to hold people accountable for polluting the atmosphere and harming the Earth.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media