Climate Crime Press Release

Top Shell bosses and Dutch Minister to be investigated for Climate Ecocide the missing International Crime of our Time

British Barrister calls for criminal law of ecocide to impose a legal duty on governments to protect the public from dangerous industrial practices.

The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Ben van Beurden and the CEO of Shell Netherlands Marjan van Loon and have been identified as principal suspects in an Independent Preliminary Examination into the potential crime of Climate Ecocide

At a special event in the Hague accompanying the annual Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, UK barrister and internationally renowned Ecocide Law Expert, Polly Higgins, announced that independent investigative work has already commenced.

“Findings will be subject to the same stringent conditions and rigorous scrutiny as required by official ICC procedures and will scrutinise evidence suggesting that Shell, the one of the largest oil companies in the world, knew that significant adverse impacts arise from their activities”, said Ms Higgins of Ecological Defence Integrity. “Crucially, evidence has come to light to suggest that the public has been misled for more than 30 years and such evidence could amount to a crime, if ecocide crime were to exist.

“The purpose of our independent climate ecocide examination is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence both to establish a crime of ecocide and to justify its adoption as an atrocity crime alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. Ultimately it’s up to any one of the 123 Signatory Heads of States to advance ecocide crime as an urgent amendment the Rome Statute.

Ms Higgins said: “The fact that ecocide occurs during peacetime does not make it any less of an atrocity, or any less of a crime. We live in an age where the consequences of dangerous industrial activity are long-term, transboundary and can be felt on the other side of the world.”

“The problem is that climate negotiations have never taken criminal law into consideration despite the fact that the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to prevent climate catastrophe. A criminal law of ecocide would impose a legal duty on governments to protect the public from dangerous industrial practices. Hurricanes will not wait whilst we endlessly vacillate over agreements which cannot be enforced.”

“Ecocide crime is an idea whose time has come. It is the missing international crime of our time. For frontline states suffering the devastating effects of severe weather and rising sea levels, COP24 is the wrong forum.

“I look forward to publicly reporting our findings,” said Ms Higgins. “If the evidence shows that continuous industrial activity known to adversely affect climate breakdown has been permitted, then both the Dutch government Minister and Shell’s senior officers could be held responsible for pervasive impacts on the world’s population at large, including the systemic and wide-spread collapse of ecosystems.”

Shell has repeatedly been put on notice. A high-profile shareholder challenge was raised in May 2018. A legal notice of intent to sue, for failing to act on climate change, has been served by Friends of the Earth Netherlands. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights are currently holding an international climate enquiry into the responsibility of Carbon Majors, including Shell. The Dutch Urgenda Foundation filed a successful climate suit against the Dutch Government, who now seek to challenge the legality of the ruling.


For more information or interview with Polly Higgins please contact Dana Amma Day PR

T: +44 7742 449 395
E: [email protected]

Full details at
The ongoing Preliminary Investigation can then be viewed online at

Download full text of Polly Higgins’s speech at the Museon.

  1. Ecocide is “loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies), such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.” Climate ecocide is one variant of ecocide crime.
  2. Polly Higgins, former practising barrister and international ecocide law expert, is the founding co-director of Ecological Defence Integrity, providers of support & legal expertise for climate vulnerable States. Author of 3 books, her first Eradicating Ecocide won the Peoples Book Prize in 2011. VPRO (Dutch BBC) featured a documentary about her work, called Advocate for the Earth.
  3. The Carbon Majors are the 91 major oil, gas, and cement companies whose activities have been studied as the largest contributors of CO2 methane emissions since the industrial revolution. The Carbon Majors Report (Heede 2013) ranked Shell as number 4. The 2nd Carbon Majors Report (CDP 2017), identifies Shell as one of the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. Global average temperatures could reach 4C by the end of the century if extraction of fossil fuels continues on the same trajectory as the past 30 years, says the report. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks.
  4. Smoke & Fumes Report (Centre for international Environmental Law 2017) sets out the growing body of evidence revealing the funding of climate disinformation strategies by the fossil fuel Carbon Majors and their extensive knowledge of climate science dating from the 1980s. The research builds on the work of a number of organisations, including Exxon Secrets, UCS Dossiers, Climate Investigation Centre, Inside Climate News and Los Angeles Times.
  5. IPCC Report Summary
  6. Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute, any individual, group, or organisation seeking a prosecution of a potential ICC crime can submit evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC. Before an investigation can be opened, the ICC prosecutor is responsible for determining whether a situation meets the legal criteria laid out by the Rome Statute.
  7. elements of crime include: the act, the state of mind, the context, the consequence.
  8. Preliminary Examinations
  9. Shell shareholder challenge (May 2018) investors challenge oil and gas firm on transparency and action on carbon emissions.
  10. Friends of the Earth Netherlands legal notice to Shell (April 2018)
  11. Philippines Petition
  12. Economic and Climate Minister Eric Wiebes announced that the Dutch government will file for a Supreme Court review to challenge the legality of the ruling by the Dutch Court of Appeal, who held: emissions to be cut by minimum 25 percent from the 1990 levels by 2020 for the Netherlands to meet its international climate commitments.
  13. Frontline states include many of the Smallest islands in the world. Vanuatu’s foreign minister, Ralph Regenvanu, recently announced that fossil fuel industry “and the States that sponsor it [are put] on notice that the climate loss and damages ravaging Vanuatu will not go unchallenged. My government is now exploring all avenues to utilise the judicial system in various jurisdictions – including under international law.”
  14. Amendments to the Rome Statute Amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court must be proposed, adopted, and ratified in accordance with articles 121 and 122 of the Statute. Any state party to the Statute can propose an amendmentCommentators

Lammert van Raan, Party for the Animals, Member of Dutch Parliament says:

‘I welcome todays initiative of the Preliminary Examination into Climate Crime wholeheartedly. It is imperative that we extend our legal instruments to prevent further wholesale destruction of our living environment. The careful way in which this initiative closely follows the well established procedures of the ICC gives great confidence in the validity of the outcome, whatever the outcome may be.’

Wouter Veening, President of the Institute for Environmental Security says:

‘A safe and secure world requires the abatement of ecocide. Climate ecocide has tremendous consequences for security. In the form of drought it provokes violent conflicts between cattle-herding communities in Africa. In the form of melting glaciers it affects the water provision of the Indus River Basin on which Pakistan and large parts of India, two nuclear powers with a conflict-ridden past, depend.’