Conflict and the Environment

Armed conflicts and military activities produce a range of humanitarian and ecological consequences. The use and testing of certain weapons, bombing of industrial facilities, setting of oil fires, and burning of military waste all contaminate the environment with toxic remnants of war. The term toxic remnants of war (TRW) refers to “any toxic or radiological substance resulting from military activities that forms a hazard to humans or ecosystems.” A growing number of disarmament, environment, and human rights organizations are working to raise international awareness of the issue. They have called for stronger laws, more effective monitoring, and better responses by states and the humanitarian community.

Credit: U.S. Army, date unknown

The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), launched in 2018 as the successor to the Toxic Remnants of War Project, has spearheaded civil society efforts on this front. The topic is also on the agenda of the UN Environment Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In July 2019, the UN International Law Commission adopted 28 draft legal principles on the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts; the principles lay out measures to prevent and remediate environmental damage associated with conflict.