An activist spoke at the World Economic Forum (WEF) about trying cases of severe environmental harm -- not prosecuting farmers, as some conspiratorial websites and commentators allege. Jojo Mehta told AFP her independent nonprofit does not advocate charging "ordinary people" with ecocide, and experts say there is no such international law.
"At the WEF they said farming and fishing should be a 'serious crime.' They want total control," says commentator Peter Imanuelsen, also known as Peter Sweden, in a January 24, 2024 post on X, formerly Twitter.
Conservative US website Human Events published an article the next day saying the supposed regulations would make "earning a living farming, fishing, and drilling" akin to "genocide." The Epoch Times similarly claimed in a January 29 X post that farmers "could face criminal prosecution."
"This was among the more controversial positions expressed by a participant at the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos," said the newspaper backed by the Falun Gong Chinese spiritual movement and which AFP has fact-checked for other misinformation.
The posts echo prior conspiracy theories from American commentators such as InfoWars founder Alex Jones. They cite as evidence a short clip of Mehta, co-founder of Stop Ecocide International, speaking during a January 16 panel at the WEF's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
"Ecocide as a word is becoming better known around the world, and the concept is generally mass damage and destruction of nature," she said during the session (archived here), adding that her organization has advocated for recognizing ecocide as a "serious crime."
But the posts misrepresent Mehta's comments and the definition of ecocide.
"If anyone has actually bothered to listen or even spend two minutes on our website, they'd have realized that I was absolutely not saying that ordinary fishermen and farmers were going to get criminalized -- quite the contrary," she told AFP on January 30.
"This is aimed at the biggest polluters and those that cause really severe damage. This is not about punishing the little guy in any way, shape or form."
"It's not an innovation in the sense that it's not a completely new crime; it's building on an existing environmental law that is currently being ignored or gamed," she said during the session, titled "Where Nature Meets Conflict."
Christina Voigt, a University of Oslo law professor who participated in an expert panel to coin the legal definition of ecocide (archived here), agreed, saying criminalization efforts would focus on "the most severe environmental harm" that is either illegal or "carried out with reckless disregard for the negative environmental consequences."
"I fail to see how a farmer or fisherman could ever reach such threshold," she said January 23.
"If we are talking about individuals located in the US, and if their 'crimes' were committed in the US, then the ICC would not have jurisdiction at all," said Milena Sterio, an international law professor at Cleveland State University in the state of Ohio.
AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about climate change here.