In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming that November 6th would be the “International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict”.
On the eve of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP21, held from November 30 to December 11, 2015 at Paris-Le Bourget, this was the opportunity to discuss what COP 21 would not talk about: the impact of armed forces on climate change, in peacetime as in wartime.
My purpose here is not to show why the rampant militarization of our planet is a major cause of deterioration of our ecosystems. Nor is it to remind everybody of the obvious: that war is inherently destructive for the environment. I don’t even wish to investigate the reasons why the environmental impact of military activities is not taken into account. My purpose, on November 6th, was to remind that the environment, which is always a collateral victim of conflicts and military activities, can also become a weapon in itself, and it is urgent that we concern ourselves with the legal instruments designed to prevent that risk.
War, law and environment
International humanitarian law has two main instruments to protect the environment during hostilities.