18 January 2023

SIPRI Webinar: Beyond war ecologies: Green ways forward for Ukraine

On the 14th of December the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) held an online event discussing the current ramifications of a degraded environment and avenues for a post-war scenario that will ensure that the environment is adequately restored.

The recent war in Ukraine has led to environmental damage on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. Artillery shells have  burned down entire forests, munitions have leaked chemicals into aquifers, and entire areas have been flooded to hinder the manoeuvrability of the Russian armed forces. The environmental degradation is so severe that Ukraine, in its proposed 10 point peace plan, names the protection and restoration of the Ukrainian environment as a key element in an eventual peace deal.

The event began with a discussion on the role of data collection, it being essential to present a clear and irrefutable record of damage, and to ascertain the renumeration needed in a post-war settlement. Speaker Doug Weir with CEOBS, highlighted during the event how Ukraine is uniquely adept at collecting data in this regard. He argued that there are numerous active civil society organisations that are key to the documentation process, particularly local volunteer organisations that document cases in specific areas or regions.  

The speakers of the event then built upon this need for data to discuss how it can act as the foundation for an environmentally conscious recovery for Ukraine, on both a national and international level.

The international level is especially reliant upon documentations of damages and transgressions. This discussion was mainly focused on how Ukraine could seek post-war reparations or non-monetary aid from Russia to fund its recovery. Cymie Payne from Rutgers university was the guest speaker detailing on what a potential framework for reparations in a post-war settlement could look like.

Cymie Payne argued, based on her own research, that reparations specifically focused on environmental damages are not without precedence. She focused on the case of the first Gulf War between Kuwait and Iraq. In the aftermath of the conflict a UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) was established to handle claims of damages from the Kuwaiti authorities. The UNCC was not created to solely handle claims related to environmental damages, but included it among its competences. UNCC demonstrated that reparations in an international legal framework are possible and realistic.

But while the UNCC was successful in compelling the Iraqi government to issue repayments, Payne argued that the model will not be as successful in Ukraine. She highlighted throughout the event, that the role and size of Russia on the international stage makes it difficult to imagine a peace deal that would compel them to pay reparations, or agree to UN arbitration on the matter. As a conclusion,  a different international framework will have to be imagined and prepared for an eventual peace deal, and that the international community cannot rely solely upon pre-existing models, argues Payne.

On the national level data collection is not so much required for proof in legal proceedings or to validate claims, but to assess where restoration efforts are needed and to help spur on a green recovery for Ukraine. Several guest speakers at the event including Anna Ackerman of Ecoaction and Torbjorn Becker from the Stockholm Institute for Transition Economics (SITE), emphasised that the restoration of the Ukrainian environment should play a prominent role in an eventual economic recovery. Ackerman in fact defined this recovery in the following manner;

“Ukraine’s green reconstruction is a sustainable reconstruction realized using the best available technologies and practices”.

By pushing for a green reconstruction of Ukraine, the guest speakers hope that such initiatives will push the Ukrainian public and private sector to pursue a scenario that goes beyond a return to the pre-war status quo. They argued that the restoration of Ukraine’s unique environment is predicated on a fundamental shift in the Ukrainian economy and economic mindset. Key to this shift would be the dedication of recovery funds to new industries, rather than a desire to rebuild pre-existing industries that utilize energy sources such as coal, or cause undue damage to the environment.

In large part the speakers have argued that the outbreak of war in Ukraine has the potential to lead to renewed shifts in how the environment is seen through a conflict-oriented lens. On an international level there is the potential to assign greater value to environmental damage and promote international norms for its protection. While on a national level there is an opportunity to promote a recovery that can rejuvenate a Ukrainian environment that has otherwise suffered greatly over the past year.

Though the final speaker, SIPRI’s Claire McAllister, did warn of potential risks posed to a lasting peace process from the environment. McAllister stated that several environment and peace reports show that there are opportunities to promote durable peace from incorporating sustainable environmental practices. Meaning that conflicts over shared resources and lacks in communication must be addressed to establish a durable peace.

The event was hosted by SIPRI, further information on the topic, including a recording of the event itself, can be accessed using the link here.

Photo Credit: manhhai/ Flickr