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The Untold Environmental implications of the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

What is the cost of war on the environment?


By Matthew Sheppard and Holly Ferguson

Photo courtesy of Levimeirclancy from Unsplash.


As a society, we think we are familiarised with the atrocities of war. We see them broadcasted through our TVs and on social media; we see the trials and tribulations faced by those living in fear of invasion and the consequences that follow, but the environmental impact of war is something that we rarely see or hear about. With the current climactic situation and the demand for environmental change, it is important that these impacts are brought into the public eye.


The environmental impacts of war start long before the war officially starts, as the cost of sustaining and renewing military equipment and ammunition has multiple detrimental impacts on the environment. The beginning of the atomic age marked the start of nuclear weapons testing. This has resulted in radioactive contamination of a large number of global sites currently nuclear testing, impacting atmospheric, aquatic and underground environments. It is not only atomic weapons which create a significant environmental impact. Historically, unused ammunition and weapons have been dumped at sea, creating further implications for aquatic environments.


Further environmental implications are linked to prolonged periods of conflict; high intensity conflicts are linked to the consumption of vast quantities of fuel, leading to massive C02 emissions. Moreover, movement of large quantities of vehicles and tanks can lead to the damage of landscape and sensitive ecosystems, which are further damaged through the use of explosive weaponry.


Since the invasion began on the 24th of February, Ukrainian officials have already reported various ecological impacts, including an increase in the volume of toxic minerals into the atmosphere, water and soil deterioration from demolished buildings, exploded pipelines and impaired sanitation systems.

The current crisis unfolding in Ukraine has brought media attention to the devastating environmental impacts associated with war. Since the invasion began on the 24th of February, Ukrainian officials have already reported various ecological impacts, including an increase in the volume of toxic minerals into the atmosphere, water and soil deterioration from demolished buildings, exploded pipelines and impaired sanitation systems. In addition to this, there are further fears that Russia may begin targeting Ukraine’s renewable energy resources, including hydroelectric dams which supply energy to local towns and cities, in an attempt to cause further disruption. Russian forces have already seized control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant - the largest in Europe - where there were concerns that a fire may have led to some minor radiation leakage into the atmosphere, although this has not been confirmed yet. This scare is a reminder that a huge Chernobyl-like disaster is not as far-fetched as many people think.


The Ukrainian conflict may have catastrophic impacts on the global food market. Yara International is one of the world leading fertilizer providers, supplying to over 60 countries globally. They purchase large quantities of raw materials from Russia but warn that this is no longer viable due to soaring gas prices, when it is about to be the most important part of the season for agricultural farming in the northern hemisphere and demand for fertilizer is at its highest. This deficiency has the potential to cause a global food shortage as experts estimate that the use of fertilizer accounts for 50% of total crop yield, forcing countries to export from elsewhere causing further environmental implications.


Russia’s current ostracization from many countries across the world may lead to difficulties communicating and reaching environmental agreements. Additionally, Russia’s actions may spark the need for other countries to expand their military resources, leading to an increased carbon footprint, already shown as global prices of oil and gas have spiked since the invasion began. Although this may appear on the surface to be beneficial to the climate as consumption may be lower for a period of time, it may spark a demand for countries to increase their rates of oil and gas mining, increasing carbon emissions. The impacts of Russia’s invasion will, without a doubt, leave permanent environmental damage far beyond Ukraine, restricting the global push to fight to counter climate change.