Published: 18 May 2021

Armed conflicts too often leads to environmental degradation or destruction, with long-lasting effects that contribute to the increased vulnerability of the affected populations. While some rules of international law provide protection to the natural environment and seek to limit the damage caused by it, armed conflicts remains an important cause of environmental damage, leading to food and water insecurity, loss of livelihoods, and biodiversity loss.

Environmental Impact of Armed Conflict

As humanity has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment is often a hidden victim of war. Over the years, parties to armed conflicts have polluted water, torched crops, cut down forests, poisoned soils , and killed animals to gain military advantage. Environmental degradation and destruction from conflicts not only takes a toll on nature itself, but also exacerbates food and water insecurity and destroys livelihoods. Environmental damage thus threatens the well-being, health and survival of local populations, and this increases their vulnerability for years and even decades.

Find out more about the environmental consequences of armed conflict:

Environmental Protection in Armed Conflict

The importance of protecting the natural environment and its vital resources during and after armed conflicts is increasingly recognized in the global arena. Recent efforts to enhance the legal framework in this field have been undertaken by the International Law Commission (ILC) – a UN body of legal experts on international law. In 2019, the ILC proposed 28 draft principles for the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts, including measures for prevention of environmental damage during conflicts and remediation in the aftermath.

These principles will be considered by the UN General Assembly in 2022. In the meantime, stakeholders are invited to make comments to the draft until June 2021. This creates an opportunity for states, civil society organizations, and international organizations to propose improvements to the text and promote better protection of the environment in humanitarian context.

Find out more about ongoing efforts to protect the environment in armed conflict:

Role of Geneva

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a global movement campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Among its many streams of work, Amnesty works on the environmental consequences of conflict, localized violent environmental conflicts, and environmental disasters.

Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP)

The GCSP is an international foundation with the mission to advance peace, security and international cooperation. Their work focuses on the complex inter-linkages amongst various human security challenges with a special focus on health and environmental security. As a centre of expertise, the GCSP offers various courses on environment and security.

Geneva Peacebuilding Platform

The Geneva Peacebuilding Platform is a knowledge hub that connects the critical mass of peacebuilding actors, resources, and expertise in Geneva and worldwide. The platform facilitates interaction on peacebuilding between different institutions and sectors, and advances new knowledge and understanding of issues and contexts related building peace. Part of its work on environment, climate, conflict, and peacebuilding includes convening briefings and meetings, developing a White Paper on Environmental Peacebuilding, and contributing to the Road to Geneva.

Geneva Water Hub

The Geneva Water Hub is a centre of excellence specialized in hydropolitics and hydrodiplomacy of the University of Geneva. Its goal is to better understand and prevent water-related tensions between competing uses, between public and private actors, and between political entities and countries.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

The ICRC is an independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence. As an essential part of protecting civilians and their livelihood, the ICRC is supporting the implementation of practical measures to protect the natural environment in times of conflict.

International Law Commission (ILC)

The ILC is a UN expert body responsible for helping develop and codify international law. In 2013, the ILC included the protection of environment in relation to armed conflict in its programme of work and has since been working on clarifying the rules and obligations in this area.

Zoï Environment Network

Zoï Environment Network is a non-profit organization that helps build sustainable societies through informed analysis, visual communication, design and action. The organisation contributes to regionally and globally recognized flagship assessments on the environment-security interface, through innovative analysis, participatory mapping and visualization.