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DisastersWar and the Environment: Ukraine in 2022

War and the Environment: Ukraine in 2022

War and the Environment: Ukraine in 2022

The environment can also be a victim of the Russian invasion — perhaps to the purpose of being a war crime.

Memorial Day began as a day to commemorate the Civil War dead, then became a day to commemorate the dead from many wars. But war’s toll goes beyond direct harm to humans.   The environment also suffers. On top of its human tragedies, the Russian invasion of Ukraine can also be wreaking environmental havoc.

One source of concern involves destruction of business plants. Ukraine has many chemical plants and storage facilities, a few of which have already been hit.  Much more worrisome are Ukraine’s fifteen nuclear reactors. Its largest reactor has already seen intense fighting.  Eastern Ukraine, where heavy fighting has been happening, is home to grease depots, coal mines and nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, the Russians have already seized the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, starting fires, stirring up radioactive dust, and imperiling wildlife.

A more severe wildlife threat is connected with the Russian incursion into southern Ukraine.  The Black Sea Biosphere Reserve is a haven for birds, a few of that are rare or endangered just like the white-tailed eagle. Additionally it is a haven for the endangered sandy blind mole rat, the Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, and rare plants. The Reserve is now occupied by the Russians, and there have been fires sufficiently big to be seen from space.  There are also said to be widespread wildfires in parts of Ukraine.

The Black Sea reserve shouldn’t be unique. Over a 3rd over Ukraine’s protected areas are actually occupied by the Russians. There’s not the slightest reason to think that they may give any heed to the ecological value of those areas.

Because the war drags on, the environmental impacts will escalate.  The environmental scars of war may be long-lasting. In France today, it remains to be possible to see the results of the devastating forest destruction of World War I.  It was not only the youth of Europe who were mown down by that senseless conflict.  Soils in lots of places remain contaminated by heavy metals to this very day.

U.N. General Secretary said in 2014:

“The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forests to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are sometimes widespread and devastating.”

Only recently has the international legal system begun to take this harm under consideration.  The U.N. claim commission established within the aftermath of the primary Gulf War gave particular attention to claims of environmental harm, paving latest ground in its efforts to measure damage to ecosystems. The UNCC was established after the primary Iraq War to handle claims against Iraq for war-related damages.  The U.N. Security Council held that Iraq “is liable under international law for any direct loss, damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources, or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations, because of this of Iraq’s illegal invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

This directive gave rise to intense dispute about compensation for damage environmental resources and for interim damages to those resources prior to restoration.  The UNCC ultimately held that these damages were compensable.  One method used to measure the worth of resources was the fee of mitigation measures – for instance, creating latest wetlands to exchange those who were destroyed by oil spills.  This was used as a method to measure the lack of ecosystem services. The UNCC awarded roughly $5 billion dollars for 109 successful claims. The quantity of damages was limited by the rigorous standards imposed by the tribunal.  Little question the actual amount of ecosystem harm was much greater. The Ukrainian government says that it intends to hunt compensation  based on the Gulf War precedent.

Under some circumstances,  destruction of natural areas was deliberate, it could be considered a war crime.  The definition sets a high hurdle: “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which can be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.”  [Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Art. 8(2)(b)(iv).) The Russians seem as heedless of  environmental harm as they’re to the lack of civilian life. Their environmental destruction could well mount to the extent where this definition is met.

Although war can damage the environment, causation may run in the other way. There are increasing grounds for concern that climate change can interact with other aspects to extend the changes of war.  That doesn’t mean that climate change will inevitably produce more war. It does seem prone to increase the percentages of armed conflict together with weak economies, ethnic conflict, and impaired governance.

“War in not good for youngsters and other living things” was a  popular slogan years ago.  It stays true, now as much as ever.


international environmental law, Ukraine war, war and the environment

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