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



6 November 2018

On 5 November 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 (A/RES/56/4).

Times of war can result in rapid environmental degradation as people struggle to survive and environmental management systems break down resulting in damage to critical ecosystems. For over six decades, armed conflicts have occurred in more than two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity hotspots thus posing critical threats to conservation efforts.

On the occasion to mark the 17th anniversary since the inception of this day, the UN Environment Programme prepared historical and contemporary reminders of why we need to protect biodiversity from the direct and indirect effects of wars and armed conflicts.

Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace Massive Open Online Course

Today is also the occasion to highlight that UN Environment has teamed up with the Environmental Law Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Duke University, the University of California at Irvine, and the United Nations Development Programme to develop a groundbreaking open online course on Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace.

Offered on the SDG Academy platform, the course synthesizes 100,000 pages of material and 225 case studies from over 60 post-conflict countries into seven hours of dynamic video lectures. The course is based on the experiences and lessons learned of over 1,000 experts and 10 United Nations agencies.

This course is targeted to:

  • Peace and security specialists that want to understand more about natural resources.
  • Natural resource experts that want to design better and more conflict-sensitive programs.
  • Sustainable development practitioners as well as private sector actors that need to understand how natural resources can be developed in fragile contexts with weak governance.
  • Advanced undergraduates and graduate students interested in the key concepts and practices of this growing field.

Sign up for February 2019!

Geneva Peace Week

As the Geneva Peace Week is taking place, this is the occasion to remind the upcoming events linked to the prevention of exploitation of the environment in war and armed conflicts:

Civil society

Civil society has marked the UN’s #EnvConflictDay by urging governments to move further and faster on environmental security. The 41 organisations and 16 experts from the fields of the environment, health, human rights, humanitarian disarmament and sustainable development argue that protecting people and ecosystems means that governments and the international community must move faster and further to address the environmental causes and consequences of armed conflicts.

The joint statement is avaiable on the website of the Toxic Remnants of War Network, a civil society network working to reduce the humanitarian and environmental impact of pollution from conflict and military activities.

UN Environment and the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict

Learn more about UN Environment’s work the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts and the resources made available for the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

See below UN Environment Programme Executive Director’s message on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

UN Environment Programme Executive Director’s message on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict

Nearly 1.5 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world’s population, live in conflict-affected areas and fragile states.

War and armed conflict present a risk for humanity and other forms of life on our planet. Too many lives, and species, are at stake.

Decades of ugly wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia or Iraq have led to the immense loss of natural resources. In Afghanistan alone, we have witnessed astounding deforestation rates which have reached 95 per cent in some areas.

In 2017, the Islamic State triggered vast toxic clouds by setting ablaze oil wells and a sulfur factory near the Iraqi city of Mosul, poisoning the landscape and people.

Critical biodiversity hotspots in Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have offered cover and refuge for rebel groups.

This has been disastrous for wildlife and forest conservation as these habitats have opened the doors to illegal logging, unregulated mining, massive poaching and breeding grounds for invasive species.

Elephant populations have been decimated in DR Congo and Central African Republic, while in Ukraine the Siverskyi Donets River has been further damaged by pollution from the conflict.

In Gaza, Yemen, and elsewhere, water infrastructure, from groundwater wells to wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations to desalination plants have been damaged, posing environmental and public health risks.

It would be a dangerous mistake to ignore these environmental consequences of conflict, and the international community needs to act with greater urgency.

This International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict I urge you all to speak up boldly and renew your commitment to protecting our imperiled planet, even in the face of hostile armed aggression.

Through resolutions passed at the Second and Third UN Environment Assemblies in 2016 and 2017, Member States demonstrated their recognition of the need to improve protection of the environment in times of armed conflict.

As part of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development we also need to integrate natural resource and environmental issues into conflict assessments and planning.

We must place transparency and better mechanisms for monitoring, collecting, sharing and assessing information on potential environmental impacts at the centre of our oversight and protection of natural resources in armed conflict. And we must build capacity to deploy these mechanisms, including through Massive Open Online Courses that help democratize assess to key knowledge. Last year, over 10,000 people from 170 countries enrolled in the UN-backed MOOC on Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace. We should aim to double this number in 2019.

I urge you all to renew your commitment to jealously protect our planet from the debilitating effects of war and especially at a time our warming planet is already threated by the impacts of runaway climate change.

With the 2030 Agenda, and the concurrent efforts of the United Nations Environment Assembly and the International Law Commission, we have a range of important tools at our disposal to promote environmental peacebuilding.

The United Nations remains committed to working with governments, businesses and citizens to protect the environment before, during and after armed conflict.

Erik Solheim