The other victim : The environmental costs of the Russia-Ukraine War

The other victim : The environmental costs of the Russia-Ukraine War

Context- As the first anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine arrives, the true costs of the war are slowly dawning upon the world. The war has killed thousands, displaced many more, left many with debilitating injuries, flattened towns and caused immeasurable suffering. But the conflict, which does not seem to be ending any time soon, also has another, often less mentioned, victim : the planet itself.

The machinations of modern war impact the environment in more ways than one. From sky-high fuel consumption and a ginormous carbon footprint to degradation of thriving ecosystems caused by the fighting, the conflict in Ukraine has racked up environmental costs that will far outlive the actual fighting.

(Credits- Al Jazeera)

Fighting-induced destruction

  • The first and most direct impact of the war is the destruction that the fighting itself has caused. According to UN Environment Programme data, the conflict has seen damage across many regions of the country, with incidents at nuclear power plants and facilities, energy infrastructure, including oil storage tankers, oil refineries, drilling platforms and gas facilities and distribution pipelines, mines and industrial sites and agro-processing facilities.
  • The result has been multiple air pollution incidents and potentially serious contamination of ground and surface waters.
  • According to claims by the Ukraine’s environment ministry, altogether the losses from land, water and air pollution amounted to $51.4 billion.
  • Kateryna Polyanska, a landscape ecologist travelling across Ukraine to study the environmental damage caused by the War, told The Guardian that the worst damage is not always visible. “It is not just the explosive material, it is rocket fuel and shrapnel and wire … All these little tiny pieces of pollution have a huge impact on nature. You can’t imagine the scale of the impact,”
  • More than 2 million hectares of forest have been destroyed, wrecking ecosystems and putting at risk rare endemic species such as pearl cornflowers, which can be found only on sandy steppes on the outskirts of Mykolaiv, or the bare tree, which grows in a narrow area of the Stone Graves reserve in Donetsk.
  • A new Greenpeace map of Ukraine plots the myriad ways in which the War has damaged the environment. In the long term, Ukraine will need a significant clean-up of air, soil and water to allow those who’ve fled the war to return.

Astronomic carbon footprint

  • The environmental costs however go far beyond the direct destruction of nature that the fighting has caused.
  • Notably, the war has an extremely large carbon footprint. Ukraine estimates the emissions from Russia’s invasion to be roughly around 33 million tonnes of CO2 from the conflict and 23 million tonnes CO2 from fires caused by the conflict. It predicts that reconstruction of infrastructure and buildings destroyed or damaged during the war could emit 49 million tonnes of CO2.
  • Many of the machines and equipment used for battle are extremely “dirty”. For instance, the state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks that Ukraine have a fuel capacity of 1200 litres. Depending on the terrain, their operational range varies from 220 km (cross country) to 340km (on roads). This means that these monster machines consume roughly between 3.5-5.5 litres of fuel per km.

Nature has taken a backseat

  • The fact of the matter is that amidst the most immediate exigencies and consequences of the War, nature has taken a back seat. For instance, Russian troops dug up deep trenches in the protected Chernobyl sanctuary: an area largely untouched since the nuclear disaster in 1986. Critics claim that this could have dug up dangerous radioactive material.
  • The loosening of environmental norms and the spike in military production are all outcomes of the War. In a bid to maximise fighting capabilities, both Ukraine and its allies as well as Russia have cut corners where they can.
  • Even when the conflict ends, the immediate efforts of reconstruction will focus not on the environment but housing, building infrastructure, and restoring services.

Way Forward- The sheer environmental catastrophe that the War has unleashed becomes clearer, the need to address it also becomes more salient. Environmental reconstruction and clean up forms an essential part of improving the health of people who suffer from the war and getting back to normal life.

Source- Indian Express

NEWS- The other victim : The environmental costs of the Russia-Ukraine War

Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations; GS-3; Environment