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How the war on Ukraine affects the environment

How the war on Ukraine affects the environment


Every day, news stories and headlines are filled with the devastating human cost of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In March, however, hundreds signed an open letter from international law and environmental experts warning of the dangers to Europe and Ukraine caused by the conflict. Carroll Muffett was one of the authors. He is the president of the Center for International Environmental Law. We are pleased to have him join us today to discuss how this particular aspect of the war is being played out.


CARROLL MUFFETT: Thank you so much.

RASCOE – So Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2012. What are the environmental effects of the conflict?

MUFFETT These effects can be difficult to see and can be very persistent. It is crucial to understand that much of the conflict in eastern Ukraine is industrialized. This means there are many chemical plants and petroleum refineries in the region. And, as we have seen, Ukraine also has numerous nuclear facilities. These risks are huge.

We’ve seen fires in a nuclear facility. We have seen missiles and attacks on ammonia pipelines, and chemical plants, causing high-level toxic substances to be released. Unexploded ordnance, munitions, and other explosives can cause severe damage to agricultural lands. We’ve seen military operations and attacks in protected areas and wildlife refuges.

RASCOE : It’s difficult to get information in war. These instances are being tracked?

MUFFETT. Some non-profit efforts have been made to track that, but it is extremely difficult. It’s important that we recognize that one of the consequences of war on the environment is that those who protect land and manage water safety infrastructure are unable or unwilling to do their jobs. What we often find is that in the aftermath of war, we begin to calculate the true environmental costs of the operations.

RASCOE – You mentioned nuclear reactors which are a big concern. Is this the greatest area of concern in terms of the environment’s future?

MUFFETT: A disaster at one of the 15 reactors could cause significant damage to the surrounding area and Ukraine. This could also affect the larger European region. These effects can last from years to decades, as we saw in the Chernobyl catastrophe. This speaks to one of the indirect consequences of Russia’s invasion. If the U.S. or Europe responds to Russia’s invasion simply by replacing Russian oil and natural gas supplies with new infrastructure to import other oil and natural gas, we can see that this has a long-term effect on the global response against climate change.

RASCOE : In a time when there is war, the focus is always on people running for their lives, hiding in bomb shelters. Many people are losing their lives. Why do you feel it is important to pay attention to the environment? It seems like you also feel that this is a part and parcel of the human harm.

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MUFFETT. It is part of the human destruction. The environmental consequences of war can be viewed as a result of human impacts. These effects can continue long past the end of the shells’ exploding. The environmental consequences of warfare are simply the effects of war upon humans and the places they live. This is a longer-lasting and often more perilous form of war.

RASCOE. Carroll Muffett is the president and CEO at the Center for International Environmental Law. We are grateful for your time.

MUFFETT – Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE of MUSIC) Transcript provided NPR, Copyright NPR.

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