The environmental and climate crisis of armed conflict

The fight against climate change requires a basic condition: peace. Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s decarbonization efforts had progressed under COP 26, as it submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with a target of 65% reduction below 1990 by 2030, a net zero goal by 2060 and a coal phase-out forecast 2050 to 2035. Now, as the country faces war and a humanitarian crisis, governance is no longer possible. The longer the ravages of an aggression, the more serious the degradation of the environment will be and the more difficult the fight against climate change will be.

Political, economic and social stability are decisive factors in successfully mitigating climate change in the crucial decades to come – they are a climate solution. That said, the impact of global warming and armed conflict limits the ability to cope with changing climatic conditions and environmental disasters caused by war. This is particularly serious in the context of the recently launched Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which warns that political efforts are moving too slowly.

The global ecosystem is deteriorating and climate risks are among the most widespread risks of the next decade. COP 26 illustrated the historic moment and the need to make structural decisions for the future of humanity and to reduce the carbon footprint. And yet, military action is exempt from the Kyoto Protocol – even though, according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), globally, the military and the arms industry are responsible for 6% of the entire world production. GHG emissions. Conflicts, their preparation and their consequences, have an impact on the environment and require a high intensity of energy use. The entire war cycle has intense carbon footprints.

In 2020, there were more than 56 state conflicts in the world, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Many countries facing armed conflict, most of which are developing countries, are simultaneously global warming “hotspots” – facing high exposure to climate risks and low levels of resilience, as shown by the Gain Index ND. This is all the more dramatic since apart from the humanitarian crisis already underway, they are less prepared to deal with the secondary effects of emissions or environmental impacts. Conflict severely hampers a nation’s ability to implement governance mechanisms and deal with direct or indirect consequences during or after conflict.

Armed conflicts leave no room for adaptation to climate change and environmental protection. According to the IRCC, Gorongosa National Park has lost over 90% of its wildlife throughout from Mozambique 15 year civil war. In addition to serious damage to biodiversity, water resources are already threatened by climate change, but in situations of conflict, they are either the object of conflict or victims of pollution. An OCHA report has identified water as a key factor in conflict in more than 45 countries. Its pollution creates a large-scale impact on agriculture and food security, among others. Urban areas with interconnected services, any kind of water pollution can have a huge impact on health.

Maritime pollution, a direct or indirect consequence of a conflict, can be devastating. For example, warnings of impending environmental disaster regarding the derelict and uninsured oil tanker FSO Safer, which is anchored off the Red Sea coast of Yemen with more than a million barrels of crude oil, has been repeatedly published by NGOs and the media. Due to the conflict in Yemen, the vessel has still not been inspected, posing a significant risk of catastrophic damage to the region in the near future. More than that, maritime security in the context of military and naval activities must take into account the fragility of maritime ecosystems and their interdependence.

The case of air pollution shows that the destruction of ecological resilience is not limited to borders or linked to the geographic extent of conflict. In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, the Conflict and Environmental Observatory (CEOBS) points out that multiple launch rocket systems have been used to attack urban areas and, beyond the essential threat to lives humans, have caused pollution because of their asbestos composition. and burning material. Attacks on a country’s physical infrastructure, power grids and transportation can be disastrous. Also in Ukraine, the Russian invasion is the first time that a military conflict has broken out in the midst of nuclear facilities of this magnitude. Any escalation that evolves these facilities can cause severe damage, capable of having devastating long-term effects. The long-term consequences will also be felt in the context of Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Global fluctuations in energy prices could increase reliance on fossil fuels for heating, transport, industry and power generation – until decarbonising sources and technologies, renewables and energy storage are more available.

Climate change and environmental pollution impact nature and contribute to the severity of humanitarian crises – take human displacement. It dramatically perpetuates already existing vulnerabilities and disparities, especially in armed conflict. Just take a look at the Sahel region with its rapidly spreading displacement within and across borders and the toll of environmental and climate change crises, with a crisis with temperatures in the region growing 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to UNHCR – the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Another indirect consequence of the war in Ukraine, the increase in the prices of fertilizers, food and fuel has hit developing countries at high risk of exposure to climate change, for example reinforcing the interruptions in the food supply. .

How to remedy the damage caused to ecosystems and people? Countries have protected the natural environment from serious and long-term destruction since 1977, through Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. It safeguards natural resources from additional conflict-related violence by prohibiting attacks on resources essential to the survival of civilians, such as agricultural land and drinking water. However, doubts currently remain as to the extent to which these safeguards guarantee the responsibility of the State and the actors. For years, the UN International Law Commission has been developing a legal framework that protects the environment in the context of armed conflicts containing 28 draft principlespublished in 2019. Nations will have the opportunity to adopt the draft principles at the United Nations General Assembly in the fall of 2022.

With new types of active warfare, including cybersecurity, new layers of complexity are added. Targeted cyberattacks carry the capacity of incapacitated energy systems, for example power grids, and other systems in place for environmental and resource protection. Compared to other weapons, cyberattacks are inexpensive and easier to use. In addition to this, apart from nuclear energy, there is no centralized control mechanism available for cyber crimes and attacks. These new relationships between conflict and the climate change crisis are only beginning to emerge and will require focused strategy, knowledge and joint efforts to address.