Polly Higgins is a pioneer; since stepping down from her legal practice as a court advocate, she devotes her time to one client – the Earth.
Her work is groundbreaking: internationally, she is the lead advocate for and expert on ecocide crime, award-winning author of Eradicating Ecocide, creator of the first ever non-commercial global trust fund for Earth Protectors, generator of change-making Earth protecting laws and a driving force behind the expansion of a ‘rights based’ narrative towards a ‘duties and responsibilities’ based governance model.
She is the co-founder of Ecological Defence Integrity, based in Stroud (UK), where her team run all core operations. Non-profit Ecological Defence Integrity was established in response to the recognition that new law for the Earth requires a far wider base of support than most governments will provide. Ecological Defence Integrity administers Stop Ecocide – an unprecedented global funding platform created to fund ecocide law.
At the UK level, Polly works with activists who seek to protect their communities and land from serious harm, and increasingly are facing criminal charges. Polly and team provide free assistance and court document preparation to these frontline protectors who, like the Quakers before them, wish to give testimony in court on point of conscience – as Conscientious Protectors, presenting innovative legal submissions under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Right to Freedom of Conscience) until new precedents are established in criminal courts.
Polly has been hailed as one of the World’s Top 10 Visionary Thinkers by the Ecologist and celebrated as The Planet’s Lawyer by the 2010 Change Awards. Founder of the Earth Law Alliance and The Earth Community Trust, she has garnered a number of awards for her work advocating for a law of Ecocide. She received an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Business School Lausanne 2013; in the same year she became the Honorary Arne Naess Professor at Oslo University. Her first book, Eradicating Ecocide, won the Peoples Book Prize in 2011 (updated 2nd edition, September 2015). In November 2015 VPRO (Dutch BBC) featured a documentary about her work, called Advocate for the Earth. She is ranked as No.35 in Salt magazine’s 2016 Top 100 Inspiring Women of the world list.
Public speaking includes guest lectures at numerous universities including New York University, University of California Berkeley, University of London, Uppsala University and University of British Columbia. Notable public talks include the EARTHtalks at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna; Keynote Speaker at the 9th Annual International Student Conference in Strasbourg; and Lead Speaker at the Tobias Leadership Conference, Colorado; the Rachel Carson 50th Anniversary Memorial Lecture (both in London and in the Netherlands); Lead Speaker at the International Leadership Association’s Annual Global Conference; Keynote Speaker at the World Peace Conference, the RSA London (and book launch) as well as a number of TED talks. Polly speaks on a diverse range of platforms, from business to peace, from law to ecology.
In November 2015 Advocate for the Earth (VPRO documentary), profiling lawyers advocating for Ecocide law, led to questions being asked in the Dutch Parliament (The Netherlands had been one of the few countries to object to Ecocide as a Crime under the Rome Statute during the initial drafting). You can watch Advocate for the Earth (in English) or here for the short 15 minute version (with Spanish transcript).
A number of lawyers now operate pro-bono as part of the Ecocide law response team who advise and assist States that lack the financial backing of western nations. Polly and her team advise and provide briefing sessions to climate vulnerable States on climate crime. The team are not paid by States, nor by organisations. Each lawyer offers their time freely to advise without vested interest.
Ecocide law seeks to re-balance the greatest injustice of our time; the lack of a legal duty of care. As such, existing duties prioritise profit. Profit that arises out of ecocide has long-term, significant adverse consequences; at the moment it is not a crime to cause extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems. As a result, dangerous industrial activity continues unabated and the knock-on impact of loss and damage remains unaddressed.
In April 2010 a fully drafted proposal was submitted into the United Nations by Polly Higgins. This quickly led to her ongoing full-time advisory work on Ecocide law to many governments, NGO’s, the UN and other related organisations. She advises and speaks as an advocate for Ecocide law throughout the world at all levels; political, economic and ecological.
Polly Higgins’ award-winning book Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet (1st Ed 2010, 2nd Ed 2015) – sets out her full proposal that was submitted to the United Nations. Her second book, Earth is our Business (pub. 2012), examines Ecocide law from the perspective of business impact and includes the draft Ecocide Act and indictments that were used in the mock Ecocide trial held in the UK Supreme Court in 2011.
ACADEMIA & LAW
First Class MA Hons degree, Aberdeen University (1986-90) and a concurrent First Class Diploma from Utrecht University; Post-graduate degree from Glasgow University (1991). Polly subsequently studied law in London at City University (1996) prior to entering the Inns of Court School of Law (1997-98). She was called to the English Bar in 1998. She trained as a pupil at the Chambers of Baroness Scotland of Astral QC and was a tenant at Bridewell Chambers. She has received an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Business School Lausanne (2013) for her services to the planet and was the Honorary Arne Naess Professor at Oslo University (2013-14).
P. Higgins, Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our Earth, Shepheard-Walwyn, London (First Ed. 2010, Second Ed. 2015).
P. Higgins, Earth is our Business: changing the rules of the game, Shepheard-Walwyn, London (2011).
JOURNAL ARTICLES/RESEARCH PAPERS
D. Short, L. Kubicki, A. Gauger, M. Pouye, P. Higgins, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace, Human Rights Consortium, (2012, 2013).
P. Higgins, D. Short, and N. South, Protecting the Planet: A Proposal for a Law of Ecocide, Crime, Law and Social Change 59, no. 3 (2013) 251–66.
GOVERNMENT BRIEFING DOCUMENT
P. Higgins, Closing the Door to Dangerous Industrial Activity, Concept Paper, Earth Community Trust (2012).
SOME RECENT ECOCIDE LAW DISCOURSE
B. Lay, L. Neyret, D. Short, A.Oposa, Timely and Necessary: Ecocide Law as Urgent and Emerging, The Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol 28 (2015) J.Juris 431 – 452.
Revue Internationale Interdisciplinaire, L’Ordre public écologique: Du concept à la juridicité, Editions L’Harmattan (2014).
S Jodoin & M-C Segger (Eds), Sustainable Development, International Criminal Justice, and Treaty Implementation, Cambridge University Press, (2013)
F Wijdekop, The duty to care for our common home, New Internationalist (2016)