War and the environment

Environmental degradation resulting from warfare is a growing concern, particularly with increasing recognition of humanity’s dependence on healthy ecosystems. Though environmental legislation does exist that seeks to prevent or mitigate environmental harm before, during and after conflict, it has limited scope and effectiveness.

This may be one reason why the environmental laws of war are so rarely applied in attempts to bring parties responsible for environmental harm to justice. Enforcement of such legal instruments also requires appropriate quantification of environmental damage, which is particularly difficult in a warfare context.

A focus on the loss of environmental resources, habitats or ecosystems is only part of the story—the real cost of environmental damage is in the loss of ecosystem services that such resources provide, both now and in the future, and which regional and global human societies depend upon.

The ecosystem services framework, wherein the costs of damage to ecosystem services are quantified in economic terms, may prove a more effective way of highlighting the environmental damage resulting from warfare. Moreover, quantification along monetary lines is potentially more likely to establish a solid case for justifiable reparations than criteria relating to loss of biodiversity or ecosystem health, which are more difficult for society and governmental agencies to place specific values on.

This article discusses the ecosystem services framework in the context of warfare, and highlights both the potential and the challenges that may accompany adoption of such a framework by the international community. Rob Francis, Department of Geography, King’s College, London

Download article (free until end of July): http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/human-conflict-and-ecosystem-services-finding-environmental-price-warfare#sthash.2EV24MrD.dpuf

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