Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins
Polly Higgins in a park
Polly Higgins
Born(1968-07-04)4 July 1968
Died(2019-04-21)21 April 2019 (aged 50)
OccupationLawyer, Author, Advocate
OrganizationEarth Protectors
Known forEnvironmental advocacy
Notable workEradicating Ecocide
MovementCriminalizing ecocide in international law
Spouse(s)Ian Lawrie, QC

Pauline Helène "Polly" Higgins FRSGS (4 July 1968[1] – 21 April 2019) was a Scottish barrister, author, and environmental lobbyist, described by Jonathan Watts in her obituary in The Guardian as, "one of the most inspiring figures in the green movement".[2] She left her career as a lawyer to focus on environmental advocacy, and unsuccessfully lobbied the United Nations Law Commission to recognise ecocide as an international crime. Higgins wrote three books, including Eradicating Ecocide, and started the Earth Protectors group to raise funds to support the cause..

Early life and education[edit]

Higgins was raised in Blanefield just south of the Highland Boundary Fault at the foot of the Campsie Hills in Scotland.[3] Her father was a meteorologist during the Second World War and her mother was an artist. The family commitment to climate and green issues influenced her early years.[2][3] After attending the Glasgow Jesuit school St Aloysius' College (1986) she completed her first degree from the University of Aberdeen (1990) and also gained a First Class Diploma from Utrecht University and a Post-graduate degree University of Glasgow (1991).[4][5] During her university years, she collaborated with Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an artist and environmental activist from Austria. They later went to Vienna, where she was influenced by the European ecology movement.[3] In 2013, she earned a Doctor Honoris Causa from Business School Lausanne, Switzerland.

She trained in law at City University and the Inns of Court School of Law in London; in 1998, she was called to the Bar (in England).[1] She practised as a lawyer based in London, specialising in corporate law and employment.[2][3][6]


At the end of a three-year case representing a person who had been injured at work, Higgins described looking out the window at the Court of Appeal and thinking "The earth is being injured and harmed as well and nothing is being done about it" and "the earth is in need of a good lawyer".[3] Subsequently, she stopped practising as a barrister to focus on advocating for an international law that would hold business executives and governments to account by rendering them criminally liable for the environmental harm that they cause.[2] George Monbiot describes the impact this might have: "It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: 'Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?'"[7]

Ecocide had been proposed as one of the international crimes against peace in 1996, but failed to be included in the final Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Higgins started to campaign for its inclusion in around 2009.[7][6] She explained in 2010 that ecocide "leads to resource depletion, and where there is escalation of resource depletion, war comes chasing behind. Where such destruction arises out of the actions of mankind, ecocide can be regarded as a crime against peace."[6] She lobbied the United Nations Law Commission to recognise ecocide as an international crime, but at the time of her death, this goal had not been achieved.[2]

As part of her campaign, Higgins wrote Eradicating Ecocide and started the Earth Protectors fundraising group.[7] She was a founder of the Earth Law Alliance.[8] In 2009, Higgins was described by The Ecologist magazine as "one of the world's top ten visionary thinkers".[9] She was ranked number 35 in Salt magazine's 2016 Top 100 Inspiring Women of the world list.[10]

Personal life[edit]

After leaving Scotland, Higgins lived in London[3][6] and later settled near Stroud, Gloucestershire.[11][12] She was married to Ian Lawrie, a judge and QC.[12][13]

In March 2019, George Monbiot stated that Higgins had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.[7] She died on 21 April 2019, at the age of 50.[2] She is buried in Slad, Gloucestershire.[11]

Selected publications[edit]


  • Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of Our Planet (2010)[14]
  • Earth Is Our Business: Changing the Rules of the Game (2012) (ISBN 978-0856832888)
  • I Dare you to be Great (2014) (ISBN 978-1909477469)
  • Dare to be Great (2020) (ISBN 978-0750994101) (re-publication with new introduction & appendices)


Honours and Recognitions[edit]

  • 1998 - Call to the Bar
  • 2009 - The Ecologist - One of the world’s top ten visionary thinkers who "demonstrated a clear vision for a better world"
  • 2010-11 - The People’s Book Prize – Non-fiction – Eradicating Ecocide by Polly Higgins
  • 2012 - Rachel Carson 50th Anniversary Memorial Lecture 2012 (London and the Netherlands) - "Ending the Era of Ecocide" (Ecocide – the Fifth Crime Against Peace)
  • 2013-14 - Arne Naess Professorial Chair (non-academic) in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo, Norway
  • 2016 - Salt Magazine: - Salt and Diageo's Top 100 Inspiring Women of the World, #35 Polly Higgins
  • 2017 - Honor of Ekotopfilm, Slovakia, "Her proposal to extend the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court would define ecocide as an international crime alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression."
  • 2019 - Ekotopfilm, Slovakia - Prize of the International Jury in Memory of Polly Higgins

Scottish decorations[edit]

  • Royal Scottish Geographical Society: - Shackleton Medal, 2018


Eradicating Ecocide was voted non-fiction winner of the national People's Book Prize in 2011.[15] Higgins delivered the Rachel Carson Memorial Lecture in 2012.[16] She held an honorary (non-academic) Arne Naess Professorship at the University of Oslo (2013–14)[17] and received an honorary doctorate from the Business School Lausanne, Switzerland (2013).[5][18] She was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 2018.[19] Her other awards include Polarbröd's Utstickarpriset for Future Leadership (2016)[20] and a Slovakian Ekotopfilm Award (2017).[21]


  1. ^ a b "About Polly". eradicatingecocide.com. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Jonathan Watts (22 April 2019). "Polly Higgins, lawyer who fought for recognition of 'ecocide', dies aged 50". The Guardian.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Higgins, Polly (20 May 2012). "Interview: Polly Higgins, lawyer and campaigner". The Scotsman (Interview). Interviewed by Ruth Walker. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  4. ^ Phil Miller (22 April 2019). "Tributes paid to campaigning lawyer Polly Higgins, who fought for law to 'protect Earth'". The Herald. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  5. ^ a b "About". personal website.
  6. ^ a b c d Juliette Jowit (9 April 2010). "British campaigner urges UN to accept 'ecocide' as international crime". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Monbiot, George (28 March 2019). "The destruction of the Earth is a crime. It should be prosecuted". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  8. ^ "What we do – Earth Law Alliance". Earth Law Alliance. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Visionaries: Polly Higgins". The Ecologist. 1 April 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  10. ^ "#35 Polly Higgins". Salt. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  11. ^ a b Matty Airey (22 April 2019). "'We must build on her legacy' – MP's tribute to Polly Higgins". Stroud News & Journal. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  12. ^ a b John Hawkins (23 April 2019). "Prominent Gloucestershire lawyer who fought for the environment dies aged 50 after short cancer battle". Gloucestershire Live. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Ian Lawrie QC". Counsel. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  14. ^ Eradicating ecocide : laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet. WorldCat. February 2016. ISBN 9780856834295. OCLC 875312611.
  15. ^ "Eradicating Ecocide". People's Book Prize. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  16. ^ "Pesticide Action Network UK: Rachel Carson Memorial Lecture 2012" (PDF). Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Arne Næss Chair 2013: Polly Higgins". University of Oslo. 22 March 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Polly Higgins Doctor Honoris Causa 2013". Business School Lausanne. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  19. ^ "Honorary Fellowship (FRSGS)". Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Winner of Swedish sustainable leadership award gives prize sum away to victims of Swedish mining". Mynewsdesk. 11 November 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  21. ^ "Honour of Ekotopfilm | Ekotopfilm". www.ekotopfilm.sk (in Slovak). Retrieved 22 May 2018.