A panel of 12 lawyers from around the world recently proposed a legal definition for a new crime: ecocide. For years, the panel, along with various international groups, has sought to amend the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to include ecocide as one of the crimes within the court’s jurisdiction.

Currently, the ICC prosecutes only four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and war crimes. The addition of ecocide would enable the court prosecute parties responsible for major ecological harms, which could include businesses, governments, and their respective leaders.

The proposed definition is 165 words, which is described as ‘unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment.’ Notably, the definition does not require harm to persons; however, the act(s) must cause widespread and severe harm.

The adoption of the fifth crime could greatly expand the role of the ICC. However, the proposal is far from done. The panel’s campaign would require comment from a host of nations. One of the Rome Statute signatories would then need to formally propose an Amendment to the Treaty, which would be formally debated at the Convention’s annual meeting. If this occurs, debate over a precise definition would likely last years or even decades.

The United States, India, Russia, and China, the world’s economic leaders, are not signatories to the Rome Statute, but could weigh in on the proposed amendment.

Overall, the proposed adoption of a fifth crime may foster debate throughout the world on matters relating to ecological harm that effects not only humans, but the planet as a whole.