The Russian invasion in Ukraine coincided with the start of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi where Member States gather to discuss the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. In response to serious threats to public health and impact on Ukraine’s environment linked to the war, 108 civil society groups send out a strong statement to States and the UN to express solidarity and call for action.
Since the start of the war, there have been numerous attacks on military and civilian infrastructure that resulted in acute and long-term health risks for civilians, including burning fuel depots, warehouses storing hazardous substances, damaged power plants and water infrastructure. There are further concerns over the Chernobyl nuclear reactor currently under control of Russian forces, and worries about other nuclear waste facilities that witnessed nearby shelling.
This statement calls for Member States and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) to start immediately with the identification and monitoring of environmental damage and to set up mechanisms to fund clean-up and restoration efforts. The organisations also underscored the need for advancing the environment, peace and security agenda, and in turn supporting stronger norms on the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts across the whole UN system, and beyond.
Prior to the invasion, Ukraine already struggled with major environmental issues linked with the conflict in the Donbas, in the east of the country, hosting large amounts of heavy industrial facilities and coal mines storing toxic and radioactive waste. In 2017, PAX researchers published an initial remote ‘environmental risks assessment’ and visited some of the most affected areas in 2018. The environmental consequences of conflict in Donbas have been widely documented by international organisations, humanitarians and civil society groups.