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Catastrophic environmental impacts of conflicts jeopardize human rights around the world - UN expert

World Environment Day, 5 June 2022

03 June 2022

GENEVA (3 June 2022) – The environmental devastation caused by conflicts around the world is exacerbating the disastrous human rights consequences for people, including their right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and will do so for years to come, David R. Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment warned today. He makes the following statement ahead of World Environment Day:

“Peace is a fundamental prerequisite to sustainable development and the full enjoyment of human rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In Ukraine for instance, the Russian invasion continues to claim too many victims, killing and injuring thousands of civilians and causing serious human rights violations. It is also consuming vast quantities of energy, producing huge emissions of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases, generating toxic air, water and soil pollution, and destroying nature.

This environmental devastation is exacerbating the disastrous human rights consequences of the invasion for people living in Ukraine, including their right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and will do so for years into the future, even after the conflict ends. It has also important negative impacts for the rest of the world.

The heavy energy use resulting from waging war exacerbates the climate crisis, both through direct greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and indirect effects at the global level. For example, many countries have announced plans to expand oil, gas and coal extraction in response to the war. The multi-billion-dollar rebuilding and restoration efforts needed in Ukraine after the war will also add to environmental pressures facing the world, consuming vast quantities of energy and other resources.

The destruction of thousands of buildings and major infrastructure essential to the enjoyment of human rights is also highly problematic in conflict situations. For example, millions of people have lost their access to safe drinking water, violating their right to water.

Damage to industrial facilities, chemical stockpiles and nuclear power plants can also result in the release of extremely hazardous substances posing an immediate threat to the rights to life and health, and long-term problems caused by exposure to toxic substances.

The world is grappling with a devastating pandemic and a triple environmental crisis – climate disruption, collapsing biodiversity and pervasive pollution – delaying progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It is imperative to end wars, ensure peace and begin the healing and restoration processes as soon as humanly possible.”

Mr. David R. Boyd was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment in August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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