The acceptance that legal protection for the environment from the ravages of armed conflict needs improvement has a long history. During the last three decades, initiatives have repeatedly flowered, only to wither and die in seminars and conference rooms, while wartime environmental damage continues largely unchecked. What lessons should a new generation wishing to tackle the topic take from past failures?
As we reported earlier, Ukraine needs to find $30m to cover the cost of a two year programme of urgent environmental assistance, doubtless millions more will be needed beyond that. Damage to Ukraine’s natural environment and direct and urgent threats to public and environmental health thanks to damage to industrial sites are widespread. In Iraq and Syria, protracted conflicts are continuing to create new environmental threats and exacerbate pre-existing problems. Environmental damage from conflict is not just of historical or academic interest, it is threatening civilians and livelihoods around the world. How then to recapture a sense of urgency in efforts to minimize damage and ensure that environmental assistance gets to where it’s needed?
It is sheer coincidence that Paris was struck by terrorists on the eve of a key climate conference known as COP 21.
To some, the attacks may appear like an unfortunate distraction in the face of efforts to meet a civilizational challenge like no other. Yet there are important cross-connections between security and climate concerns.
Runaway climate change will impose growing stress on natural systems and human societies, and it could well usher in a whole new age of conflict. We live, after all, in a world marked by profound disparities in wealth, social and demographic pressures, unresolved grievances, and a seemingly endless supply of arms of all calibers. Far from being a separate concern, climate change is certain to intensify many existing challenges. More frequent and intense droughts, floods, and storms will likely play havoc with harvests and compromise food security. Extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and spreading disease vectors could undermine the economic viability and long-term habitability of some areas. The result could be escalating social discontent, mass displacement, and worse.
In fact, such scenarios are no longer mere conjecture. Consider Syria.
An argument can be made that COP21 must address the subject of war and peace as an ecological issue.
Because secrecy veils the true numbers, it is difficult to accurately determine the amount of atmospheric pollution caused by the military. Nonetheless, it is significant.
A certain correlation can be found between the biggest C02 emitters of the world
and those who are in charge of the most militarized complex.
How come the IPCC does not take into account this form of destructive human activity?
Let’s look at Aircraft emissions, for example.
To tackle the issue of military pollution we need real, hard data. This means finding the right means, the right people, in the right place to work with us.
The video shows one example of the polluting aspect from the impact of military conflict. Burnt fields, exploitation and outright theft of raw materials diverted to military rather than peaceful use, and the "differentiated status" granted to certain countries under the Kyoto Protocol are other examples of pollution-inducing military activities that should be explored and discussed.
US military operations to protect oil imports coming from the Middle East are creating larger amounts of greenhouse gas emissions than once thought, new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows.
Green climate fund
The massive financial resources allocated, absorbed or confiscated by the military is another essential issue to be addressed, but we have to be smart because the armed forces are positioning themselves as part of the solution. And, whether we like it or not, they will have an influence amongst the various delegations. We must move beyond the previous idyllic concepts - that funding for missiles and tanks should be diverted towards so-called "development", for example. The "polluters pay" principle seems to have been forgotten. New proposals are needed, not only taxation of weapons transfers or eventual taxes on nuclear warheads but also other linkages that would create specific funds for discrete and compelling purposes. Money to aid and rescue refugees, assist NGO's working on de-pollution and decontamination of military sites, funding to help and defend whistle blowers. We have an opportunity to highlight the huge gap between money spent by certain big powers on military assistance and that which is offered for climate assistance.
1 – Athena is the Greek goddess of war who disliked battles and preferred to end quarrels in a peaceful manner.
2 – Athena’s favourite creature was the owl, which to my mind symbolises the whistleblower.
Whistleblowers like the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES) which advocates for nuclear weapon dismantlement.
3 – “Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development”, in the words of Principle 24 of the Rio Declaration.
4 – Principle 25 of the same Declaration states: “Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible”.
In the 20 years since the Brundtland report’s publication, the specter of nuclear destruction has not yet been “removed from the face of the Earth,” as the report called for, but has merely changed scale: the threat of the mushroom cloud has been replaced by the threat of the dirty bomb—a crude device that a terrorist cell could fashion out of pilfered nuclear material. Setting off such a bomb in a world city—a major hub in the global economy—could create more disruption than the paradigm-shifting attacks of September 11, 2001, although the radioactivity would impact far fewer people than the feared global nuclear winter
Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the security community’s focus has shifted from the global clash of superpowers to fragmented groups of stateless actors fomenting civil war and terrorism. The end of the Cold War also opened greater political space for analyzing a range of diverse threats to both individuals and the world beyond using the traditional state-centered approach. The environment—along with the related challenges of health and poverty—has become a key area of focus within that new space.
Our understanding of the links between environment and security has evolved in the last 20 years to reflect these changing threat scenarios. Today, “environmental security” has become a popular phrase used to encompass everything from oil exploration to pollution controls to corn subsidies. The Brundtland report, in an underappreciated chapter entitled “Peace, Security, Development, and the Environment set the agenda for understanding these multiple links between environment and security.
In this chapter, the Brundtland commissioners flagged both the environment’s implications for security and security’s impact on the environment. They highlighted the contributions of natural resources to violent conflict and their link to the well-being of humans and ecosystems. At the same time, the arms culture of superpower military confrontation and the subsequent war on terror have presented tremendous impediments to achieving sustainable development. The report even previewed the recent efforts to capture the power of environmental issues to build peace instead of conflict. “Some of the most challenging problems require cooperation among nations enjoying different systems of government, or even subject to antagonistic relations,” wrote the commissioners. Twenty years later, that statement still rings true, outlining the pathway to one facet of our common future: environmental peacemaking.