President of Ukraine

The first meeting of the International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War took place in Kyiv

30 June 2023 - 09:06

The first meeting of the International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War took place in Kyiv

The first meeting of the International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War took place under the co-chairmanship of Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak and former Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Margot Wallström.

The meeting was attended by Vice-President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, President of Ireland in 1990-1997 Mary Robinson, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Senior Advisor at the European Institute of Peace, Head of the CMI (The Crisis Management Initiative) Eurasia Program Roxana Cristescu. The meeting was also attended in an online format by EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius, Professor and CEO of the European Climate Foundation Laurence Tubiana, and Member of Parliament of the Åland Islands, member of the Ecocide Alliance Simon Holmström. From the Ukrainian side, the group was joined by Ruslan Strilets, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General, Rustem Umerov, Head of the State Property Fund, and Daria Zarivna and Oleksandr Bevz, Advisors to the Head of the Presidential Office.

Opening the first meeting of the International Working Group, Andriy Yermak thanked its participants for supporting Ukraine in its pursuit of justice and for their willingness to work together to bring Russia to justice for its environmental crimes.

"Today we are launching a very important project. Russia's war against Ukraine is not a local conflict. This aggression creates numerous challenges for all of humanity - from the threat of a nuclear disaster and undermining food security to the intensification of anthropogenic climate change. I am not talking about possible risks - this has already come true. We are facing the consequences of the Russian terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant every day: waterlogging, desertification and species extinction," the Head of the Presidential Office said.

According to him, Ukraine has lost almost a third of its forests due to hostilities. The entire ecosystems are either on the verge of extinction or have already been irretrievably lost. During the year of war, greenhouse gas emissions reached hundreds of thousands of tons.

"This is a matter of concern to everyone. Russian aggression has led to ecocide on a scale that is difficult to assess. However, this must be done. Russia must be held accountable for its crimes against the environment. This can only be achieved by combining international efforts," emphasized Andriy Yermak.

He noted that the established International Working Group will focus on three specific areas:

1. Assessment of the consequences of war for the environment.

2. Developing recommendations for finding mechanisms to bring the aggressor to justice for environmental crimes so that Russia pays in full for the destruction it has caused.

3. Environmental restoration.

"We must learn lessons from the tragedy. We must use this opportunity not only to restore the country, but to build it anew - friendly to people and nature. And we would be very grateful for the recommendations of the International Group in this regard," the Head of the Presidential Office said.

He said that the International Working Group aims to develop a comprehensive document covering the above points.

"Along with the Kyiv Security Compact, which should become the basis of security guarantees for Ukraine, the Ukraine Environmental Treaty should create conditions for reliable environmental protection. It is important that the following documents can serve as a model for any country facing the challenges and threats that Ukraine is currently facing," said Andriy Yermak.

The Head of the President's Office noted that the members of the group are facing unprecedented, complex tasks, but expressed confidence that they are able to cope with them.

"So, let's get to work. We need to fight for the preservation of nature, for Ukraine. For the whole world, for ourselves," emphasized Andriy Yermak.

On Thursday, the International Working Group met with representatives of the Ukrainian environmental community. Ukrainian environmental activists informed the guests, among other things, about how Russian aggression is affecting the environmental situation in the country. It was emphasized that the consequences of one of Russia's biggest crimes, the terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, affected not only Ukraine and its environment, but also the Black Sea and the maritime space of many countries, and affected African countries, as the destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir will reduce crop yields in the Ukrainian region, where agricultural products were traditionally grown.

Separately, activists called for promoting the recognition of ecocide as a crime, insisting on the payment of reparations for the consequences of environmental crimes, and developing mechanisms for rapid response to crimes against the environment.

Following the inaugural meeting, the members of the International Working Group on the Environmental Consequences of War issued a joint statement.

Speaking to the media after the meeting of the International Working Group, Margot Wallström thanked the President of Ukraine, the Head of the Presidential Office, ministers, the Prosecutor General and representatives of environmental groups of Ukraine with whom she spoke today for the information provided.

"We were impressed with the work and the amount of work that has already been done to assess the damage. We were impressed by the way you are thinking about your future, and you can already list a lot of the things you need. Our meeting today is an expression of solidarity and support for Ukraine," she said.

Margot Wallström emphasized that Russia must certainly be held accountable for its crimes against Ukraine.

The co-chair of the International Working Group called the inaugural meeting fruitful and expressed confidence that all its members would be able to use their contacts to spread information about environmental crimes in Ukraine, develop recommendations, and conduct assessments that could provide a complete picture of the environmental impact and its restoration.

Margot Wallström emphasized the importance of involving as many representatives of the expert community as possible in the work of the group, who will be able to provide qualified assistance in solving the tasks of assessing the damage caused to the Ukrainian environment, bringing to justice those responsible for committing environmental crimes and restoring the ecological system of our country.

She also noted that the members of the group would welcome the addition of representatives from Asia, Africa, and South America.

Mary Robinson, for her part, emphasized that her main tasks are to fight impunity and properly assess environmental damage.

She praised the involvement of representatives of the Ukrainian environmental community in the work of the International Group.

Speaking to the media, Heidi Hautala added that overcoming the environmental consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine is one of the points of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Peace Formula. She expressed the opinion that the International Group should ensure its implementation through its activities.

"Ukraine is in the focus of attention, but we are also doing this to show the world that such environmental destruction and the terrible consequences of conflict and war should not go unpunished. There must be accountability," she emphasized and added that she would use all available EU platforms to realize this goal.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, for her part, emphasized: "Ecocide, the destruction of the environment, is a form of warfare. Unfortunately, Ukrainians now understand this very well. Russia deliberately targets its actions against the environment, against the livelihood of people."

"I think we need to connect the dots: the danger, the threat of war, human suffering and ecocide are all connected. None of us should ignore the terrible things that are happening in Ukraine, the crimes that Russia is committing here. I really hope that we will be able to collect assessments of what is happening from central and local authorities and environmental organizations to assess the environmental damage that Ukraine is experiencing. We need to hold Russia accountable for its crimes, and the people who have suffered damage should be able to recover, just as Ukraine should be able to recover in a sustainable way," she added.