The Russia-Ukraine war is not just destroying a country, disrupting human lives but also causing irreparable damage to the environment thereby dampening the spirit of various international pacts and agreements aimed at working towards a sustainable future and slowing the pace of climate change by primarily reducing emissions. The kind of emissions being released into the atmosphere right now are setting a very bad example of the days to come! Understand this: High intensity conflicts require and consume vast quantities of fuel, leading to massive carbon dioxide emissions and contributing to climate change. Large scale vehicle movements can lead to widespread physical damage to sensitive landscapes and geodiversity. The use of explosive weapons in urban areas creates vast quantities of debris and rubble, which can cause air and soil pollution. Pollution can also be caused by damage to light industry and environmentally sensitive infrastructure such as water treatment plants. Militarism is tailored to ensuring access to, and control of, natural resources like oil, gas, water and metals. Severe pollution incidents can be caused when industrial, oil or energy facilities are deliberately attacked, inadvertently damaged or disrupted. Other scorched earth techniques include the destruction of agricultural infrastructure like canals, wells and pumps, or the burning of crops. Whether intended or otherwise, these large-scale pollution incidents can lead to transboundary impacts from air pollution or through the contamination of rivers, aquifers or the sea. In some instances, these even have the potential to affect weather or the global climate. Human displacement is common to many conflicts. Camps for refugees and internally displaced peoples can have large environmental footprints. Systems often break down during conflict leading to increased rates of waste dumping and burning, improper management and less waste segregation. Waste management systems are just one element of environmental governance that may collapse during conflicts. Local environmental laws and regulations may be ignored, and local and national administrations may lose their capacity to monitor, assess or respond to environmental problems.
In fact, the environmental impact of wars begins long before they do. Building and sustaining military forces consumes vast quantities of resources. These might be common metals or rare earth elements, water or hydrocarbons. Keeping an army in readiness means training, and training consumes resources. Military vehicles, aircraft, vessels, buildings and infrastructure all require energy, and more often than not that energy is oil, and energy efficiency is low. The carbon dioxide emissions of the largest militaries can be greater than those of a number of countries combined. What then? Militaries also need large areas of land and sea, whether for bases and facilities, or for testing and training. Military lands are believed to cover between 1-6% of the global land surface. In many cases these are ecologically important areas. While excluding public development from these areas can benefit biodiversity, the question of whether they could be better managed as civil protected areas is rarely discussed. Military training creates emissions, disruption to landscapes and terrestrial and marine habitats, and creates chemical and noise pollution from the use of weapons, aircraft and vehicles. A vast quantities of surplus munitions have been found to be dumped at sea! Indirectly, high levels of military spending divert resources away from solving environmental problems and away from sustainable development. What is the solution then?