Climate criminals should “get a good lawyer”, according to an MSP who wants to introduce new legislation on “ecocide” to punish the worst polluters in Scotland.
Monica Lennon said her “harsh” proposals, which could see guilty executives jailed for up to 20 years, were needed to deter the worst environmental crime.
On Wednesday, the Labour MSP launched the consultation for her proposed Member’s Bill which would make Scotland the first part of the UK to incorporate a crime of ecocide – defined as “unlawful or wanton acts” which cause widespread environmental damage.
Around the world, 13 countries legally recognise some form of ecocide and there is a growing movement for it to be codified in international law.
Ms Lennon’s proposed Bill is intended to deter and punish events such as oil spills caused by corporate negligence, while deforestation or illegal fishing could also be within its scope.
At the launch event in Edinburgh, Ms Lennon said action is needed as “Scotland is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.
Her proposals would set a minimum jail sentence of 10 years for the crime of ecocide, with a maximum of 20 years.
Taking questions from journalists, she said: “If we want to bring in an ecocide law it has to be stronger than what we already have on the statute books.
“The maximum of 20 years maybe does sound a bit harsh, but we’re talking here about the most severe impact that could have irreversible damage, it could be destroying a whole ecosystem.”
Ms Lennon said her law would complement existing environmental legislation and provide an overarching deterrent for those who may wish to skirt the current regulations.
She added: “If people are worried that they might be an ecocide criminal, get yourself a good lawyer.”
She admitted ecocide would have a “high bar” for prosecution, adding: “What is the alternative if we don’t have an ecocide law?
“We’re hearing that the biodiversity that we all depend on for human life as we know it is dying.
“This is not really an optional thing to have.”
After the consultation phase, Members’ Bills must gain the support of at least 18 MSPs before they can progress further.
The proposed Bill is supported by Stop Ecocide International – a campaign which is backed by Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis and Sir Paul McCartney.
The campaign’s executive director JoJo Mehta was also at the launch event in Edinburgh.
She said some organisations sought to “fall between the cracks” of existing laws on purpose.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the First Minister said that Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater would shortly be meeting Ms Lennon to discuss her proposals.
Ms Lennon’s consultation is open until February 9.