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article imageCall from scientists to make environmental damage a 'war crime'

By Tim Sandle     Jul 25, 2019 in Environment
A consortium of scientists have called for fifth Geneva convention to protect wildlife and nature reserves in conflict regions. This would make it a war crime to damage protected areas during a war or military skirmish.
The scientists have made this request in an open letter, which has been published in the science journal Nature ("Stop military conflicts from trashing environment"). The letter states: "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."
To illustrate their point, the scientists draw on research which shows how military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, trigger species to extinction and poison water resources. This includes a paper published in the journal Conservation Letters ("Armed conflicts and wildlife decline: Challenges and recommendations for effective conservation policy in the Sahara‐Sahel"). This exemplar demonstrates how escalating regional conflict in Libya hastened the population decline of large vertebrates, like cheetahs and gazelles.
A close-up view of a Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus cub.
A close-up view of a Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus cub.
Muhammad Mahdi Karim (GNU License)
The open letter has been released ahead of the United Nations international law commission, which is due to hold a meeting that could build upon the 28 draft principles that have previously been set to protect the environment in war zones ("Protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts").
Speaking with the Guardian, Professor Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, and one of the signatories, 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."
In terms of what can be practically done, the scientists are seeking companies and governments to work together to regulate arms transfer and to seek to avoid conflict in protected areas, especially those with fragile ecosystems and where biodiversity needs to be maintained.
In related environmental news, Prince Charles, speaking at a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers, has warned that the next eighteen months will be critical for tackling climate change. He draws upon the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which charts how global emissions of carbon dioxide must peak by 2020 in order to keep keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. At the current rate, the rise in temperature is likely to be 3 degrees Celsius.
More about Environment, Ecology, War crime, international court
 
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