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How the war on Ukraine has an impact on the environment

How the war on Ukraine has an impact on 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 do we know now about the environmental consequences of the conflict?

MUFFETT These effects can be difficult to see and can last a very long time. It is important to realize that the majority of conflict in eastern Ukraine has been caused by industrialization. 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’ve seen ammonia pipelines and chemical plant explosions caused by missiles. 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 – The problem with war is that information can be very difficult to find. These instances are being tracked?

MUFFETT. Some non-profit efforts have been made to track that, but it is extremely difficult. It is important that we recognize that one of the consequences of war on the environment is that those who are responsible for protecting land and managing 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. Do you think that this is the most serious concern in the area of the environment?

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 impacts can last for years or even decades, as we saw with Chernobyl. And this speaks to one the other, indirect consequences of Russia’s invasion. The U.S. and Europe could simply replace Russian oil and gas supplies by building new infrastructure to import oil from other countries. This could have a long-term affect on global climate change response.

RASCOE – In a wartime, the focus is on those running for their lives in bomb shelters. Many people are losing their lives. Why do you think it’s important that we focus on 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 a part of the human damages. One way to look at this is that the environmental effects of war are simply human impacts that can continue long after the shells stop exploding and long after the bullets and guns cease. 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: We are very grateful.

(SOUNDBITE MUSIC TRANSCRIPT) Transcript provided NPR. Copyright NPR.

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