Today, 6 November, is the UN International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.
According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
On this International Day, we stress the critical importance of protecting the environment in times of armed conflict and restoring the good governance of natural resources during post conflict reconstruction. We also recognise the important role that natural resources play in supporting the livelihoods and resilience of all members of society, especially women, and the implications of sustainable natural resource management for conflict prevention and peace.
WILPF and the environment
By exploring the root causes of conflict, WILPF has long identified environmental exploitation as a driver of conflict as well as a residual impact of war. The lack of access to and competition for resources and the degradation of environments and ecosystems lead to instability, inequality and poverty. This can lead to conflict and wars, with the cycle flowing the other way.
The world urgently needs a political approach to environmental sustainability. It needs to examine the prevailing culture of violence and militarism and compare it to one of peace and human security.
Devastating climate and ecosystem change cannot be reversed but the causes, particularly climate injustice due to human activity, have to be stopped. We must take economic and political steps, and we must hold countries accountable through legally binding laws and international agreements.
We believe unjust economic power systems and the greed of many industrial complexes drive the destruction and exploitation of natural resources, thereby laying the roots of conflict.
How are the environment and conflict linked?
We continue to question and expose the root causes of war, conflict, and their threat to the biosphere. They include:
As stated by Ban Ki-moon, “the World is over-armed and peace is under-funded.” Unsustainable military expenditure, consumption, and the reduction of available resources for social and economic development perpetuate conflict and harm the environment. The military-industrial complex, composed of nation states’ armed forces, government, suppliers of weapons systems, multinational corporate services, and academic institutions’ research on weapons systems absorb vast amounts of funding and resources that could otherwise be spent on human security, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and post 2015 goals.
Water and food
The threat to human security due to exploitative systems of food production, the reckless use of water, and conflict generated by competition for resources vital to life. Water and food is treated as a commodity to be controlled by corporations for profit. The relationship between water and food as monetarily valued commodities and geopolitical conflict driven by unsustainable production, is devastatingly circular.
There is an increasing demand for and mining of scarce minerals and metals. This includes coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo, uranium in many African countries, and rare earth elements in Afghanistan. Many of these resources are used to perpetuate global consumption of manufactured goods and are fought over in long running conflicts. The often irreparable damage to infrastructure and natural resources, including homes, education, cultural heritage, health institutions, and access to food and water, is devastating for people and nature.
The dangerous existence of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The links between them and the environment are widely known, including the effect of radiation and heavy metals on human health and nature, the demand for scarce resources such as water by the nuclear industry, and the true human, economic, pollution, and security costs of the production process of both nuclear weapons and energy. The devastating effects of nuclear power accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukishima, and the cost of military nuclear programmes, which could be diverted to projects that tackle climate change and improve human security, are areas of grave concern for WILPF. There must also be effective monitoring of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The aftermath of conflict
The toxic remnants of war, including land mines, use of depleted uranium, unexploded ordinance and radioactivity, collateral and deliberate contamination of water and sewerage systems, and the environmental impact of large releases of toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as dioxins and mercury from the bombardment of industrial sites during war.
The militarisation of Space and the dual role of civil and military use of the systems of satellites, ground stations, drones and radars, as well as the potential effects on human beings and nature, must be researched, exposed and controlled by international law.
WILPF builds on its century of investigation, exposure, and condemnation of the drivers of conflict and war. Conflict, generated by unsustainable production and consumption, deepens ecological degradation. This harms humans, often those at the receiving end of economic and social exploitation. The survival of the biosphere relies on human rights and security.
We must redouble our efforts to identify the leadership, knowledge, and adaptations required for our work in building peaceful and just societies. We must work locally, nationally, regionally and internationally to learn, teach and practice relations of respect and care for the flora and fauna and natural resources of the Earth, in order to be able to secure a future for coming generations.