The environment and conflict in 2016: a year in review

The environment and conflict in 2016: a year in review

Marking the UN’s international day on conflict and the environment in November, the Special Rapporteur tasked with reviewing and developing the law protecting the environment before, during and after conflict argued that 2016 was “…set to be a milestone in global efforts to protect the environment in connection with armed conflict.” But it has also been a year where such efforts have seemed more vital and urgent than ever. This blog takes a look back at conflict and the environment in 2016, at the progress made and considers what should […]

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The environmental consequences of Iraq’s oil fires are going unrecorded

The environmental consequences of Iraq’s oil fires are going unrecorded

Oil facilities have been targeted during conflicts since the start of mechanised warfare. It is a practice that can have serious consequences for the environment and human health. Oil fires started by Islamic State in northern Iraq have now been burning for months, exacerbating an already serious humanitarian crisis, but right now nobody seems to be monitoring their impact on the ground. The oil fires burning in and around the northern Iraqi town of Qayyarah began in July when retreating Islamic State forces ignited wells, storage tanks and a refinery. […]

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UN Special Rapporteur calls for action on TRW to protect children

UN Special Rapporteur calls for action on TRW to protect children

This month, Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and toxics, presented the findings of his report on the effects of hazardous substances on the lives of children around the world to the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council. His conclusions were bold and brave for their implications on conflict: States should take responsibility for cleaning-up of the toxic remnants of war and provide medical aid to affected communities and individuals afterwards. Environmental pollution as result of warfare is a topic of growing of concern among […]

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South Sudan’s broken oil industry increasingly becoming a hazard

South Sudan’s broken oil industry increasingly becoming a hazard

The environment has long been a factor in violent conflict in South Sudan, especially with respect to control over oil. The first oil was discovered in 1999, and by 2007, hydrocarbons accounted for over 95 percent of Sudan’s income. South Sudan became independent in 2011 after years of war with the Sudanese government in Khartoum, intensified by local conflicts over access to oil-rich border areas. But beyond conflict, South Sudanese communities have also been ringing the alarm bell about pollution and health hazards caused by the oil industry. PAX’s Wim […]

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What the environmental legacy of the Gulf War should teach us

What the environmental legacy of the Gulf War should teach us

February marked the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War’s end. The intensity and magnitude of the allied coalition’s offensive, followed by the systematic destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells by retreating Iraqi troops, led to an unprecedented environmental disaster. Yet within two months, and in a first for international armed conflict, a post-war claims and remediation mechanism ─ the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) ─ was in place. Its aim was to not only help neighbouring states recover from the personal and financial losses inflicted during the war, but also […]

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Calculating the environmental benefits of peace in Colombia

Calculating the environmental benefits of peace in Colombia

Colombia’s environment has suffered widespread and severe damage as a result of half a century of armed conflict. With a peace agreement with FARC on the table, the government has been reviewing the financial costs of the damage – and the economic and environmental benefits of peace. By its own calculations, an end to the conflict could see the government saving US$2.2bn a year in addressing avoidable environmental damage. But a sustainable environment will first require a sustainable peace. The instability that led to Colombia’s 50-year conflict has its roots […]

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Five years on: lessons learned from the environmental legacy of Syria’s war

Five years on: lessons learned from the environmental legacy of Syria’s war

This week the Toxic Remnants of War Network commemorates the beginning of the conflict in Syria. The devastation wrought upon the country has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, wounding many more and displacing millions across the region and beyond. They have left behind cities turned to rubble, ravaged towns and barren lands scarred by fighting. A recent study on Syria undertaken by the World Bank noted the enormous damage to health facilities, critical infrastructure, education and the economy. The conflict has not just been a humanitarian tragedy; […]

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Fire and oil: The collateral environmental damage from airstrikes on ISIS oil facilities

Fire and oil: The collateral environmental damage from airstrikes on ISIS oil facilities

As the United States, Russia, and others step up attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there is concern over their direct and long-term environmental and public health impacts. Many air strikes have targeted lucrative oil installations under the control of ISIS, and these could have severe detrimental effects for Syria’s future, both environmentally and socio-economically. Questions around the effectiveness of these strikes, both from a military and political perspective, seem to be missing in the wider debate. Although essentially forbidden by the Geneva Conventions, attacks on […]

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Watching the world burn: Islamic State attacks against Libya’s oil industry

Watching the world burn: Islamic State attacks against Libya’s oil industry

Contrary to other armed groups in Libya, the strategy behind the Islamic State’s attacks on oil facilities this week is not purely military. It is also part of a wider strategy calling for the disruption of the oil industry, not only to affect opposing regimes but also western society and the global economy. Damage to oil facilities can have severe negative consequences for the environment and public health. Interestingly, Al Qaida’s strategist Abdullah bin Nasser al-Rashid wrote guidelines for attacks on the oil industry, which also took into account environmental […]

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Lifecycle versus the law – defining the environmental impact of weapons

Lifecycle versus the law – defining the environmental impact of weapons

This blog considers the extent to which we can use international humanitarian law (IHL) to define or judge the environmental impact and acceptability of weapons. How do weapons damage the environment? Should we be thinking only in terms of their direct impact, or should we focus on how weapons are used? Or do we also need to take a more holistic approach, one that considers their impacts on the environment from production to disposal? During the debate among states over the International Law Commission’s (ILC) ongoing study on strengthening protection for the environment […]

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