Climate Change and armed conflict.

Fighting climate change requires a basic condition: peace. Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s decarbonization efforts had progressed in the context of COP 26 as it submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with a target of a 65% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, a net-zero targets by 2060 and an anticipated coal phase-out from 2050 to 2035.

As of now, as the country faces war and a humanitarian crisis governance is no longer possible. The longer any aggression havocs, the worse will be the environmental degradation and the more challenging the battle against climate change.

Political, economic, and social stability are decisive factors for successfully mitigating climate change in the crucial coming decades – they are a climate solution. That said, the impact of both global warming and armed conflict limits the capacity to deal with the changing climate conditions and environmental disasters caused by war.
This is particularly severe in the context of the recently launched IPCC Sixth Assessment Report alerting those political efforts are
advancing too slow.

The world’s ecosystem is deteriorating, and climate risks are among the most pervasive risks of this next decade. The COP 26 illustrated the historical moment and the need to make structural decisions for the future of mankind and reduce the carbon footprint.

And yet, military action is exempted from the Kyoto Protocol – even though according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), globally, the military, and the weapon supplying industry, are responsible for 6% of all global GHG emissions. Conflicts, their preparation and aftermath, cause environmental impact and require high intensity of energy use. The entire cycle of warfare has intense carbon footprints.

In 2020, there were more than 56 state-based conflicts globally, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.
Many of the countries facing armed disputes, most of them are developing countries, are simultaneously global warming “hotspots” – facing high exposure to climate-risks and low levels of resilience, as shown by the ND-Gain index.

This is specifically dramatic because apart from the humanitarian crisis already in course, they are less prepared to deal with the side effects of emissions or environmental impacts.Conflict severely impedes the ability of a nation to implement governance mechanisms and deal with the direct or indirect consequences during or in the aftermath of a conflict.

Armed conflict leaves no room for climate change adaption and environmental protection. According to the IRCC, the Gorongosa National Park lost over 90% of its wildlife throughout Mozambique’s 15-year civil war.  Adding to the severe damage to biodiversity, water resources are already under threat due to climate change, but in the situation of conflict are either object of dispute or victim of pollution.

An OCHA report identified water as a determinant factor in conflicts in over 45 countries. Its pollution creates wide-scale impact on agriculture and food security amongst others. Urban areas with interconnected services any sort of water pollution can have extensive health impact.

Maritime pollution, either as direct or indirect consequence of a conflict can be devastating. For example, warnings of an imminent environmental catastrophe concerning the deserted and uninsured oil storage tanker FSO Safer, which is anchored off the Red Sea coast of Yemen with over a million barrels of crude oil, has been repeatedly issued by NGOs and the media.

Due to the Yemen conflict, the vessel remains uninspected, posing a significant danger of catastrophic damage in the region in the near future. More than that, maritime security in the context of military and naval activities must consider the fragility of maritime ecosystems and their interconnectedness.

The case of air pollution shows that the destruction of ecological resilience is not limited to borders or bound to the geographical scope of the conflict. In the context of the Ukraine crisis, the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) points out that Multiple Launch Rocket Systems have been employed to attack urban areas, and beyond the essential threat to human lives, have been causing pollutions due to their composition of asbestos and combustion material.

Attacks on physical infrastructure of a country, its power grids, and transportation can be disastrous. Again, in Ukraine, the Russian invasion is the first time a military conflict has erupted in the midst in nuclear energy facilities of that scale. Any escalation evolving these facilities can cause severe damage, able to cause devastating long-term impacts.

Long-term consequences will also be felt in the context of the European dependency on Russian gas. Global energy price fluctuations could reinforce the reliance on fossil fuels for heating, transportation, industry, and electricity generation – until decarbonizing sources and technologies, renewables and energy storage are more available.

Climate change and environmental pollution are impacting the nature and contributes severity of humanitarian crises – take human displacement. It dramatically perpetuates already existing vulnerabilities and disparities, particularly in armed conflict.

One must only take a glimpse at the Sahel region with its rapidly spreading displacement within and across the borders and the track record of environmental and climate change-related crises, with crisis with temperatures in the region rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to UNHCR – the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. As another indirect consequence of the Ukraine war, that increased fertiliser, food and fuel prices hit developing countries with a high risk of climate change exposure, reinforcing interruptions in food supply for example.

How to address harm to ecosystems and people? Countries have protected the natural environment against long-term, and severe destruction since 1977, thanks to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. It safeguards natural resources from extra conflict-related violence by forbidding assaults on resources essential to the civilian survival, such as agricultural lands and drinking water.

There are currently doubts, however, until which extend these safeguarding measures provide accountability of state and actors. For years, the UN’s International Law Commission has been elaborating a legal framework that safeguards the environment in the context of armed conflicts containing 28 draft principles, published in 2019. Nations will have the possibility to adopt the draft principles at the UN General Assembly in Autumn 2022.

With new types of active warfare, including cybersecurity, new layers of complexity are added. Targeted cyber-attacks carry the capacity to unable energy systems, for example electrical grids, and other systems in place for environmental and resource protection. Compared to other weapons, cyber-attacks are low-cost and easier to employ.

On top of that, other than nuclear energy, there is no centralized controlling mechanism available for cybercrimes and attacks. Such novel relationships between conflict and climate change crisis are only beginning to emerge and will require a targeted strategy, knowledge and joined efforts respond. (Open Photo: Damaged residential buildings in the aftermath of a shelling in Podilskyi district of Kyiv. ©palinchak/123RF.COM)

Alena Profit/Modern Diplomacy



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