War and Ukraine's Environment: Practical Aspects

October 4, 2022
On the state of Ukraine’s environment during wartime, Ukraine’s endeavors to hold the aggressor accountable, and on Ukraine’s green path despite the odds.
Photo credit: Miguel Medina (AFP)

UkraineWorld talked to Ruslan Strilets, the Minister Environmental Protection and Natural Resources. Key points - in our brief. #UkraineWorldAnalysis

On the damage to Ukraine's environment

The preliminary overall damage to the environment from Russian aggression totals 1.285 trillion UAH, or 35 billion USD. Of this, the damage from air pollution totals more than 878 billion UAH, the damage to soil and land reaches more than 400 billion UAH, and the total damage to forests is around 16 billion UAH.

Fighting has occurred on 3 mln hectares of forest fund lands. There are now nearly 450 thousand hectares of forests under occupation. Thanks to Ukraine's successful counteroffensive, the Ukrainian flag now flies over 5 forestries in Kharkiv Region (more than 150 thousand hectares).

20% of nature conservation areas in Ukraine have been affected by the war. The Russian army doesn't maintain the protected status of these areas under occupation, but rather uses them as a springboard for deployment of troops.

Today, 2,9 mln hectares of "emerald network" territories - the most valuable lands which serve as migration corridors - are at risk. 16 Ramsar Sites with a total area of almost 600 thousand hectares remain under threat of destruction. These territories have the status of wetlands of international importance due to their unique biodiversity. They are a guarantee of humanity's ecological security.

The environment has no borders. Therefore, when toxic substances spread in an uncontrolled manner, there is no guarantee that they will not spread into Russia or Europe.

Regarding the atmosphere, the total emission from destroyed objects and fires has already exceeded 40 mln tons of pollutants. Before the war, the total annual output was 2.2-2.4 mln tons.

On documenting crimes

Work to document Russia's environmental destruction in Ukraine is being done not only the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources (MEPNR),  but also by the executive bodies de jure directed by the Minister, namely  the Environmental Inspectorate, the State Agency of Water Resources, the State Forest Resources Agency, and the State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management (which manages the Chornobyl zone).

From the very beginning of the full-scale war, the MEPNR's primary work  has been documenting damage and losses. An operational headquarters was created at the State Environmental Inspectorate, which tracks crimes 24/7.

One of the most effective tools is the Ekozagroza application developed by the MEPNR, with which every Ukrainian can learn about the state of the environment in their region, as well as record any crime of the occupiers.

The app's interactive map with layers of information is one of its most important functions. People can get government-verified information about the state of air, radiation contamination, and more in their areas, along with  recommendations in case of environmental dangers.

Information is being collected from more than 557 air quality monitoring stations and 414 radiation monitoring stations. A new layer on the state of water quality on rivers has been opened, as the collection of information from more than 550 water quality monitoring stations has been resumed.

More than 2100 messages with eco-crimes records have been received from Ukrainians.

On calculation of damage

Even if the war ends soon, there will be a great deal of work to do in assessing all the damage and damaged areas, which will require a lot of laboratory tests. A huge amount of work needs to be done regarding the waters of the Black and Azov Seas, as there is currently no safe access there.

After the end of the war, we must demand reparations from Russia to receive  compensation for the damage. Even though conflicts take place in the world all the time, there is no internationally recognised methodology to calculate damage to the environment. Ukraine's task is to develop such a methodology so that any country that even thinks about starting a conflict will understand what it will be on the hook for in terms of environmental damage.

Today we have seven methodologies for calculating damage to the environment. The Ministry of Justice has already registered 3 of them: on damage to water sources, to soil, to the  air. The registration of methods for calculating damage to the forest fund, subsoil, seas, territories and objects of the reserve fund is about to be completed.

After all damages are calculated and verified, Ukraine's interests will be represented in courts by the Ministry of Justice.

The methodologies that have already been developed are the basis for creating an internationally recognized methodology together with our partners. Thus, it will be possible to reduce the possibility of future armed conflicts. Our ambitious goal is to show the world that the environment is the most valuable thing in this war.

International cooperation and European prospects

The MEPNR is cooperating with the EU. Thanks to these joint efforts, Ukraine has become a partner in the LIFE program - a grant program of the European Commission. Ukraine is the first non-EU member, and while it did not have EU candidate status at the time of negotiations, it has nevertheless become a participant of the program on preferential terms. We are exempt from paying membership fees for 2 years, but we still enjoy all rights.

We also have cooperation with the US State Department, NASA, and the US Environmental Protection Agency. We are also working with the World Bank, along with law firms that expressed a willingness to help in the first months of war, such as Baker McKenzie and Hogan Lovells. Many experts have joined to help. We also signed a memorandum with the UNDP.

Our international partners recognize the importance of providing aid, and they're doing it fast, because they understand that there's no time to play with bureaucracy. It is necessary to quickly make decisions and proceed to actions.

USAID is ready to support Ukraine's climate policy implementation, public administration reforms in the field of environmental protection, reforms in the field of waste management, as well as the further digitalization of the environmental sphere.

One of the key tasks of the Ministry is to implement European legislation as soon as possible, because having attained EU candidate status, we have received not only rights, but responsibilities. Annex 30 to the Association Agreement on necessary steps in the field of transformation of environmental legislation is one of the largest. Two fundamental laws have been adopted on this score - on waste management  (which will enter into force in 8.5 months) and on the register of emissions and transfer of pollutants (adopted in the second reading).

The Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland are sharing their experience in environmental regulation. Employees of the Ministry have made short visits to study this experience, in particular, to see how the Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions practices and how the state environmental inspections works.

Ukraine has concluded an agreement on greenhouse gas emission trading with Switzerland. We expect Switzerland to invest in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in  construction, transport, energy and infrastructure.

Lithuania has taken patronage over the newly-created Pushcha Radzivila National Park. It will help in the development of a model national park with the appropriate scientific infrastructure, which will help protect and preserve valuable lands, as well as develop tourist potential.

The strategic goal of post-war reconstruction is a clean and safe environment, further development of the European green path, and reconstruction based on the principles of a circular economy. The goal is not only to return to the starting point, but also to achieve significantly greater results in order to build a modern, safe European country.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Ruslan Strilets, the Minister Environmental Protection and Natural Resources