Environmental Protection Must be Priority in Times of Conflict, Say UN Officials
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Caring for the environment both in peacetime and during war is critical for realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

On the occasion of International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said that, in the aftermath of violent conflict, governments need natural resources such as land, timber, minerals, oil and gas to support livelihoods and economic recovery, and highlighted that the way these resources are managed can alter the course of post-conflict peace building.

6 November 2016 – Caring for the environment both in peacetime and during war is critical for realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized this approach on the occasion of International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Ban said that, in the aftermath of violent conflict, governments need natural resources such as land, timber, minerals, oil and gas to support livelihoods and economic recovery, and highlighted that the way these resources are managed can alter the course of post-conflict peace building.

In a joint statement with Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, UN Environment Executive Director, Erik Solheim warned that fires in Iraqi oil wells were “turning the skies and soil black,” releasing toxic fumes and pollutants, including soot and gases that cause health problems such as skin irritation, shortness of breath and respiratory illnesses. Solheim also said that environmental destruction can impact the delivery of humanitarian assistance and post-war recovery, and can drive migration. He added that wars start and are perpetuated because of natural resources, and underscored that environmental protection must play a prominent role in responses to conflict.

Fires in Iraqi oil wells were turning the skies and soil black and releasing toxic fumes and pollutants.

Marie Jacobsson, UN Special Rapporteur for the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict, said that while steps have been taken to prevent environmental harm before and after armed conflict, governments have yet to commit to legally binding rules during armed conflict.

Reaffirming the importance of this issue, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), in May 2016, adopted a resolution committing countries to protect the environment in areas affected by armed conflict. For its part, the UN International Law Commission is developing a set of “principles” that focus on preventive and post-conflict measures to protect the environment, including post-conflict environmental assessments and remedial measures, the sharing and granting of access to information, environmental impact assessments of peace operations, and the establishment of protective zones of environmental and cultural interest, which are important for protecting fragile ecosystems and ensuring the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples.

In September, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published a paper, stating that environmental crimes should be regarded as “priority areas in terms of determining the gravity of the crimes,” and, according to the International Court of Justice, a growing number of disputes coming before the ICC identify environmental protection as a concern.

In 2001, the UN General Assembly declared 6 November of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. [UN Press Release] [Statement of the UN Secretary-General] [International Day Webpage][UNEA Resolution] [UNEP Press Release on Lecture on Environmental Peacebuilding] [UNEP Press Release on the Day]

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