Environmental impacts of the Ukraine war

Environmental impacts of the Ukrainian war

The consequences of armed conflict on pollution are difficult to quantify, mainly due to two factors: the restricted availability of data during combat and the omission of the significant carbon footprint of armies in calculations of global greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect. There are many environmental impacts caused by the war in Ukraine.

In this article we are going to tell you what have been the environmental impacts caused by the war in Ukraine and how it has affected.

Ukraine war and environment

The environmental impacts of the Ukrainian war

There are numerous organizations committed to addressing the extent of pollution caused by the war in Ukraine. One such organization is the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), which recently conducted an environmental impact assessment on the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. CEOBS identified a minimum of five distinct categories of environmental harm resulting from the conflict.

In May 2022, the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the city of Mariupol experienced detrimental effects on its industrial and energy facilities. This particular incident served as a stark reminder of the repercussions that come from such harm. The bombing caused the destruction of storage batteries, which contained water contaminated with hazardous waste, as well as drinking water plants. It is evident that the consequences of this event were significant and far-reaching.

The militarization of nuclear power plants, such as the one in Zaporizhia, presents a significant nuclear risk. Bombing and poor waste management have led to air pollution, while the aftermath of the city's devastation has left behind hazardous waste. The loss of hundreds of hectares of arable land, caused by factors such as landmines, further aggravates the situation. Furthermore, the destruction of infrastructure has resulted in the contamination of drinking water and coastal areas.

Ecological damage

forest fire

From the beginning of the war until December 2023, EcoAction has documented a minimum of 1.549 cases of ecological damage in Ukraine. The most affected regions are Kharkiv, Dnipro, Mykolaiv and Kherson, which are located very close to the fortified structures erected by Russia. These fortifications are intended to obstruct the advance of the Ukrainian army towards territories already under Kremlin control. Brady Africk, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has successfully identified these fortifications using satellite images.

Despite the existence of the Geneva Conventions, which specifically prohibit harming the environment in times of war, the repercussions of such actions can persist for many years. Article 35 of Additional Protocol I explicitly states that the use of tactics or weapons that aim at or are likely to cause significant and lasting harm to the natural world is strictly prohibited. The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam is the most significant environmental catastrophe during the war.

Environmental impacts of the Ukraine war

environmental catastrophe

The most significant environmental incident in Ukraine so far has been the catastrophic failure of the Nova Kakhovka dam, located along the Dnieper River. This event occurred on June 6, 2023, when the dam's retaining wall collapsed, causing the rapid discharge of 18 cubic kilometers of water.

As a result, the force of the water wreaked havoc on all the ecosystems it encountered downstream. The Kherson region alone witnessed the submergence of more than 120 square kilometers of forest.

In the Krívoi Rog district, water scarcity poses a major problem, especially since 80% of the drinking water supply depends on the Kakhovka reserves, as stated by Evgen Sytnychenko, head of the local administration. The devastating loss of numerous species led to the collection of almost 900 kilograms of dead fish in that area alone.

The release of toxic substances, including heavy metals, machinery oils, petroleum, pesticides and fertilizers, was a direct result of the dam failure. These harmful elements were previously trapped in the sediments of the Dnieper River, but have now been released into the environment. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has identified 54 areas of significant contamination as a result of this event.

In addition, the agency reported that after the catastrophe, more than two million cubic meters of waste were generated, which is equivalent to the volume of 800 Olympic swimming pools full of garbage. The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, located upstream of the dam, was affected by the decrease in water resources, crucial for cooling the atomic facility.

Responsibility for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, which Ukraine calls ecocide, is attributed to Russia. Ukraine is actively gathering evidence to bring the case to the International Criminal Court, although the ICC does not specifically address ecocide as it is not covered by the Rome Statute. However, there is the possibility of examining whether it can be considered a war crime.

How does the military's carbon footprint impact the environment?

Not only do acts of aggression contribute to pollution, but war itself is a source of environmental pollution. Surprisingly, no global agreement has been established to address carbon emissions resulting from war.

The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, in their inventories to account for greenhouse gas emissions, have overlooked the environmental impact of conflicts, without taking into account factors such as missile launches, fuel consumption of war tanks and fighter planes, as well as the environmental consequences of building fires caused by bombing.

The Paris Agreement explicitly stated that countries had the option to voluntarily report military-related pollution, emphasizing the non-binding nature of this requirement.

However, there are scientists who strive to assess the influence impartially. According to a report published in November 2022 by the British non-governmental organization CEOBS, if the military were considered a separate nation, it would rank as the fourth largest contributor to pollution globally. This is due to its contribution of 5,5% of the total greenhouse gas emissions on Earth.

Throughout the conflict in Ukraine, there has been a significant increase in the emission of harmful gases, even exceeding the levels produced by highly industrialized nations such as Belgium. It should be noted that Belgium is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases in the European Union. EcoAction, an environmental organization, conducted an analysis and determined that Ukraine generated approximately 150 million carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) in the first 18 months of the armed conflict. Compared, Belgium's emissions for 2019 amounted to 124 million, according to data from the European Economic Area.

Calculating this figure is a challenging task, as the guidelines provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not offer any guidance on how to account for emissions caused by conflict.

The reason for the significant variation in the figures is obvious. According to a publication by Science of The Total Environment, Ukraine recorded 77 million tCO2-eq in the first 18 months, which is almost half of the estimate provided by EcoAction.

It is widely accepted that war and the presence of armies contribute to pollution, although there is no specific international agreement that quantifies their carbon emissions. This trend has been evident during the first two years of the conflict in Ukraine.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about the environmental impacts of the Ukrainian war.


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