Scientists call upon United Nations to designate environmental destruction a war crime

Scientists have written an open letter to the United Nations calling for them to designate environmental destruction a war crime for the first time.

War is not only destructive to human beings and human settlements, it destroys the environment and kills wildlife as well. Therefore, environmental destruction rightfully should be a war crime because humans and wildlife alike rely on the environment.

Signed by 22 scientists from countries around the globe, the letter calls for the adoption of a Fifth Geneva Convention that would hopefully force nations to be more considerate when engaged in warfare.

“We call on governments to incorporate explicit safeguards for biodiversity, and to use the commission’s recommendations to finally deliver a Fifth Geneva Convention to uphold environmental protection during such confrontations,” the letter, which is published by Nature, says.

“Despite calls for a fifth convention two decades ago, military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction and poison water resources,” the letter continues. “The uncontrolled circulation of arms exacerbates the situation, for instance by driving unsustainable hunting of wildlife.”

“A Fifth Geneva Convention would provide a multilateral treaty that includes legal instruments for site-based protection of crucial natural resources,” the letter concludes. “Companies and governments need to work together to regulate arms transfer. And the military industry must be held more accountable for the impact of its activities.”

Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, who helped draft the letter, further explained why the convention should be adopted in a statement to The Guardian.

“The brutal toll of war on the natural world is well documented, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities and driving many species, already under intense pressure, towards extinction,” she said. “We hope governments around the world will enshrine these protections into international law. This would not only help safeguard threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction.”

As the world faces a climate crisis, the last thing we need is for wars to contribute to our problems by destroying environments that are already at great risk. The United Nations has recently warned that one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activities. Surely, that includes war. And that means they should endorse a new convention.

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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