The Environmental Costs of War – by Robert Eales
Resulting in tens of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees, decimated economies and damaged infrastructure, alongside nuclear threats amid risky international interventions, the currently-ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is the largest and most destructive continental conflict in generations. Direct and indirect implications are felt around the world and will continue to reverberate long into the future, perhaps permanently reshuffling the composition of international politics. An often-overlooked factor is that of the war’s environmental impacts, which range from directly-observable conflict-related pollution, such as terrain contamination and immediate wartime emissions, to more indirect environmental costs relating to conflict-induced changes to international energy consumption priorities (Rawtani et al. 2022).
Since the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, much of Europe’s energy market has been deliberately starved of Russian resources, forcing unprecedented European policy changes. Germany’s situation is perhaps the most prolific, having deliberately – and permanently – shifted to importing United States (US) Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) products via tanker in order to end the ramifications of being reliant on hostile resources (Holz et al. 2022). This policy shift was personified by the speedy construction and operational integration of Europe’s three newest LNG import terminals, each located along the nation’s northern North Sea coastline (Holz et al. 2022). Such shifts have been echoed across the continent, stemming from the developing newfound defence-oriented necessity for energy security, and are characteristically reflected in broader global resource and economic self-sufficiency trends: Such as the escalating de-coupling agenda presently pursued between Europe and Russia, and China and the United States, where the economic benefits of liberal globalisation are weighed against those of national security (Garcia-Herrero 2022, 352-358).
Domestically, the destructive and prolonged conflict has resulted in innumerable tangible instances where Ukraine’s natural environment has suffered manipulation and devastation. This has occurred in rural areas in the form of spoiled and contaminated farmland, razed forests, and poisoned rivers, all of which are often due to shelling and the construction of defensive fortifications. Urban areas have not escaped unscathed either, with many instances of damaged industrial sites contributing to local ground, irrigation, drinking water, and air-based pollution, in some cases even exposing regional residents to poisonous substances and tainted water. These human-oriented effects are well documented, however less is known about the effects inflicted upon Ukraine’s animal populations: Such rapid environmental changes have the ability to physically alter regional migration and food-chain patterns for generations to come (Serhii et al. 2022, 36-53).
Over 2,000 cases of severe Russian military-caused environmental damage have been recorded amounting to an estimated cost approaching €50 billion, according to Ukrainian Environment Minister Strilets (Guillot 2022). Now-infamous examples include Russian missile attacks on energy infrastructure at the Ladyzhynska thermal power station in October 2022, the Russian shelling of the Kalininski industrial waste facility for the Kalinin mine in August 2022, and the Russian targeting of the Pechenihy reservoir dam in September 2022, as well as the militarisation, and ongoing resulting targeting, of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. This damage has the capacity to cloud Eastern Europe with atomic pollution (Guillot 2023). Whether this environmental targeting has been purposeful or not remains to be discovered.
Holz, Franziska, Robin Sogalla, Christian R. von Hirschhausen, and Claudia Kemfert. “Energy supply security in Germany can be guaranteed even without natural gas from Russia: Special issue on the war in Ukraine.” DIW Focus, #7, 2022.
Garcia-Herrero, Alicia. “Slowbalisation in the Context of US-China Decoupling.” Intereconomics 57, no. 6 (2022): 352-358.
Guillot, Louise. “How Ukraine Wants to Make Russia Pay for War’s Environmental Damage.” POLITICO. POLITICO, June 16, 2022. https://www.politico.eu/article/how-ukraine-want-make-russia-pay-for-war-environmental-damage.
Guillot, Louise, Antonia Zimmermann, and Giovanna Coi. “The Environmental Scars of Russia’s War in Ukraine.” POLITICO. POLITICO, February 22, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/environment-scars-russia-war-ukraine-climate-crisis/.
Serhii, A. Shevchuk, Viktor I. Vyshnevskyi, and P. Bilous Olena. “The Use of Remote Sensing Data for Investigation of Environmental Consequences of Russia-Ukraine War.” Journal of Landscape Ecology 15, no. 3 (2022): 36-53.
Rawtani, Deepak, Gunjan Gupta, Nitasha Khatri, Piyush K. Rao, and Chaudhery Mustansar Hussain. “Environmental damages due to war in Ukraine: A perspective.” Science of The Total Environment 850 (2022): 157932.
Robert Eales is a Global and International Studies (BGInS) undergraduate student, Carleton University