What is it about?

With climate change having become a looming threat to our existence, it is imperative to revisit laws that impact us. This study reviews climate change from the perspective of armed conflict and international humanitarian law. In past and current warfare, there are instances of purposeful environmental degradation by enemy states to gain military advantage. The spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam by USA and the burning of oil fields in Kuwait during the Gulf War are examples of this. These actions, intended only to place the victimised countries on their backfoot during wartime, have since had great long-lasting impacts on the environment. Additionally, with climate change comes the scarcity of resources, like clean drinking water, and food, as well as threats of zoonotic disease due to the redistribution of animal habitats. Dealing with these threats could mean having to battle for resources to survive, further intensifying climate-related conflicts. Moreover, lands now weakened by climate change may not be able to take on the damage from environmental modifications during battle. This calls for a relook at the various international laws of armed conflict in terms of how they must now be modified to incorporate climate change as an issue in its own right.

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Why is it important?

Though the environment is often jeopardised in armed warfare, very few cases of the same are raised with international humanitarian law, although it is flexible enough to accommodate these cases. While it is not realistic to expect a sudden change, taking slow steps towards modifications to international humanitarian laws could help our efforts to alleviate the climate crisis. KEY TAKEAWAY The environment is often harmed during armed conflict, and climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’. It, therefore, should be considered in international humanitarian law.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Protecting the Environment from the Perspective of the Law of Armed Conflict, International Community Law Review, June 2021, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/18719732-12341475.
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