While the war in Ukraine is dragging on, concerns are mounting about the transboundary environmental damage it has caused. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an own-initiative opinion at its April plenary on the right to a healthy environment in the European Union calling for criminalisation of Russia’s actions under European law as well as environmental protection to safeguard fundamental rights.
The war is taking a severe toll on Ukraine’s ecosystems, with reports indicating that large areas of forest have been destroyed and air and water pollution has been widespread. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, Ukraine is home to 35% of Europe’s biodiversity despite only occupying 6% of its territory. However, the war is threatening this rich natural heritage, with environmental damage causing harm to ecosystems and human health and endangering agricultural production.
Rapporteur Ozlem Yildirim said that “The EESC stresses the urgency of improving environmental protection from the perspective of safeguarding fundamental rights in the European Union and beyond, and that this need is exacerbated by the severe environmental damage caused by the war in Ukraine”.
The European Economic and Social Committee, together with the European Parliament, calls for the recognition of ecocide as a criminal offence under EU law. The EESC believes that this would help hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine and prevent similar environmental disasters from happening in the future.
In addition, the committee urges the EU to document, map and measure these impacts to legally protect the environment, ensure accountability and lay the foundation for an environmentally and socially just post-war recovery that is consistent with international standards as well as social and environmental considerations.
Environmental, human and animal health cannot be separated. Moreover, the right to a healthy environment is essential to the social and economic wellbeing of people in Europe and worldwide. For example, the ILO estimates that about 40% of jobs worldwide depend on a healthy climate.
The EESC calls on all EU Member States and institutions to improve the effectiveness of existing legal tools and deepen their efforts to ensure respect for the right to a healthy environment. With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine highlighting the fragility of our ecosystems, it is more important than ever to protect our natural heritage and safeguard the health and wellbeing of our citizens.