Better Business: B Corp’s Growth Improving The Future Of Business For NZ

by Dr. Bohdan Vykhor and Andreas Beckmann

Since 24
February 2022, the war in Ukraine has caused untold human
suffering. It has also brought unprecedented and
long-lasting challenges to the environment. With extreme
violence still ongoing, it is too early for a comprehensive
assessment of the environmental damage, yet there are
already worrying indications of the nature and scope of the
damage that is growing with each day of the war.

The
environmental costs of the war include direct impacts on
habitats and species; but also indirect ones in terms of
pollution of air, land, and water, or diverted
resources.

Already before the war, Ukraine – like
other countries – was facing significant environmental
challenges, including crises of climate change and
biodiversity loss. The country has already warmed by almost
1.5°C over the last 30 years, and the increase in annual
mean temperatures could
reach 3°C
by the middle of the century. The impacts of
these changes are increasingly evident, for example in
decreased harvest yields.

The war is not only
impacting an already stressed natural environment but also
preventing efforts to improve the situation. Activities and
investments to restore habitats, conserve species, improve
protected area management as well as mitigate and adapt to
climate change have been disrupted.

Europe’s Green
Heart at risk

Ukraine has a high diversity of
habitats and species. It is part of a broader region
stretching across Central and Eastern Europe sometimes
referred to as the “Green Heart of Europe”. This
includes rare steppe ecosystems, coastal wetlands, alpine
meadows, ancient beech forests, and extensive
peatlands.

The country shares a part of the Danube
Delta, the second-largest river delta of continental Europe
and the largest reed-bed in the world. It includes vast
pine, oak, and birch forests and peat bogs in the Polyssia
region of northern Ukraine.

The Carpathian mountains
in the western part of the country are home to ancient beech
forests and alpine meadows. Importantly, rare steppe
ecosystems survive in the central and eastern parts of
Ukraine.

The territory of Ukraine contains habitats
that are home to 35% of Europe’s biodiversity, including
70,000 plant and animal species, many of them rare, relict,
and endemic. They include European bison and brown bears,
lynx, and wolves as well as sturgeon, the world’s most
threatened group of species.

Military intervention
threatens these natural treasures. Movements of large-scale
military vehicles and explosives are damaging habitats both
inside and outside protected areas. Fires sparked by attacks
have already damaged over 100,000 hectares of natural
ecosystems, according to satellite data from the European
Forest Fire Information System. The State Forest Resources
Agency of Ukraine has already recorded 78 times more fire
incidents than during the same period last year. According
to the Ukrainian
Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
, at least
900 protected areas together covering 1.2 million hectares
or 30% of all protected areas in Ukraine have been affected
by shelling, bombing, oil pollution, and military maneuvers.
Some territories of the Emerald Network are under threat of
complete destruction. According to Oleksii Vasyliuk of the
Ukrainian Conservation Group, an NGO, a fifth of the
country’s 377 Emerald network sites protected under the
Bern Convention have been degraded by military action. These
include many unique steppe habitats of the highest nature
value as well as the dense forests growing along the
Siverskyi Donets River, which provide shelter, food, and
nesting sites for protected birds of prey. As troops
concentrate here, they jeopardize the integrity of this
biodiversity hotspot.

At least
14 Ramsar sites
— valuable wetland areas that have
been internationally recognized according to the Ramsar
Convention on Wetlands — are under threat of destruction.
They include the expansive shallow marine lagoons and the
biggest island of the Black Sea in Karkinitska and
Dzharylgatska bays; the Dnipro river delta, a refuge for
nature in a region known for its huge agricultural fields;
and the bogs, meanders, and natural meadows of the Desna
river floodplains in the Sumy region.

Adding to the
damage is the fact that the conflict is taking place in the
spring, when animals move in search of mates and food, and
when they are rearing their young. In the spring, hundreds
of thousands of waterfowl migrate along Ukraine´s sea coast
and through the Polissya region in the north. Over 30,000
white storks and 1,000 rare black storks enter the country
every year in search of nesting places. Bears are ending
hibernation. Wild ungulates give birth and need peace and
quiet.
 

Indirect impacts

The war also
has significant indirect costs. As a consequence of the war,
24 protected areas have been forced to suspend their
conservation activities in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zporizia,
Kherson, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kyiv, and
Crimea regions. Where troops have withdrawn, as around Kyiv
or Chernihiv, they have left behind park infrastructure and
facilities that have been reported as damaged and will need
to be restored.

Even those protected areas that have
not been directly impacted by military actions have
suffered. Many rangers and other staff have enlisted in the
army or territorial defense and are no longer available for
park administration and enforcement. Those that remain are
affected by missile alerts, electricity blackouts, and food
shortages, preventing them from doing their jobs properly. A
number of protected areas are under pressure from
significant numbers of refugees, putting strain on park
facilities and resources. Synevir National Park, Carpathian
Biosphere Reserve, and other protected areas in the western
part of Ukraine have provided refuge for at
least 15,000
internally displaced persons.

With
much of the staff of environmental enforcement authorities
displaced, conscripted, or unable to perform enforcement
operations, increased poaching of protected species such as
sturgeon and illegal logging is likely. According to the
State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, on 27-28 April
the Fish Patrol of the State Agency for Land Reclamation and
Fisheries of Ukraine revealed violations
totaling €65,000 in five regions of Ukraine. The
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has had to suspend forest
management certificates in armed conflict areas of Ukraine,
increasing the risk of illegal logging and jeopardizing many
years of work to support sustainable forest
management.
 

A legacy of heavy
industry

Ukraine’s economy has been largely built
on heavy industry, particularly in the east, so there are
thousands of industrial plants, chemical factories, coal
mines, and other facilities that produce and store toxic
waste. Attacks on these locations could contaminate air,
water, soil, and sea, posing an immediate threat to
people’s health and longer-term environmental damage to
water and soil.

There are serious concerns about the
short- and long-term impact on water sources and freshwater
ecosystems. The pollution of water resources is a reminder
that water does not just come from a tap, it comes from
freshwater resources – rivers, lakes, wetlands, and
groundwater.

Destruction of power infrastructure and
equipment can lead to flooding of abandoned coal mines that
can contaminate groundwater with toxic waste, including
heavy metals. When a mine ceases to operate, water must be
constantly pumped out of the underground shafts and chambers
to prevent them from flooding. Groundwater that does enter
can become contaminated with heavy metals, which can then
permeate underground aquifers and the surrounding soils,
rendering them unusable for farming and human consumption.
This has already happened with deserted coal mines in
eastern Ukraine and will become even more severe as the war
drags on.

Shelling of oil and gas depots and
infrastructure such as pipelines can cause leaks that affect
rivers, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater. Chemical waste
from industrial plants and fuel storage facilities can lead
to leaked substances and wastewater seeping into the soil or
running into nearby streams, affecting surface and
groundwater quality and local ecosystems.

Land mines,
cluster munitions, and other explosive remnants of war don’t
only take human lives, but can also pollute groundwater with
metals and toxic materials. The war is generating large
volumes of military scrap that can contain a range of
polluting materials, contaminating groundwater, while
exposing those who work on it to acute and chronic health
risks.

Destruction of water infrastructure and
wastewater treatment plants not only cuts off access to
water for people but also pollutes water sources. Damaged
treatment facilities such as Severodonetsk, Lysychansk,
Rubizhne, and Popasna are spewing untreated wastewater into
the environment and polluting water resources.

Damage
to dams – particularly major hydropower dams – could
cause catastrophic impacts, as well as long-term
environmental damage. For example, if the Kyiv hydropower
dam was breached, it would create a devastating flood as
well as spread radioactive sediments from the Pripyat River,
which flows through Chornobyl, that have accumulated behind
the dam, potentially contaminating the river down to the
Black Sea. A dam on the Siverskyi Donets River in the
Donetsk region has already been damaged, impacting water
quality.

Many of the issues mentioned also lead to
contamination of land and soils. Abandoned coal mines,
shelling of oil and gas infrastructure and chemical
factories, and munitions and military scrap all produce
toxic chemicals and heavy metals that pollute soils,
including agricultural land.

Air pollution is another
serious concern. Fires, smoke, and fumes caused by shelling,
including fires in residential areas, have serious impacts
on air quality. There have been numerous attacks on oil and
gas depots and storage facilities and industrial plants and
factories, causing toxic chemical fumes. An attack on a
chemical plant near Sumy on March 21 released ammonia, while
on April 5 an acid tank exploded near Rubizhne, releasing a
toxic cloud of nitrogen acid.

Opportunity
costs

The war also has significant opportunity costs,
including investments stopped or delayed. Like other
countries, Ukraine needs to take urgent action to mitigate
and adapt to climate change. Its updated nationally
determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement,
adopted in July 2021, aims to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions by 65% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and
includes climate adaptation targets.

Much of
Ukraine’s renewable power capacity is located in the South
and East of the country where active fighting is taking
place. The Ukrainian NGO Ekodiya
reports that more than half of Ukraine’s wind farms have
already been shut down, along with other renewable energy
installations. The war is not only destroying existing wind
turbines and solar panels, but holding up further investment
to achieve the country’s ambitious targets for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservation activities have
also been put on hold. Almost all the wildlife conservation
projects run by WWF-Ukraine
have been affected in one way or another, and activities of
other organizations have been similarly affected. The
outbreak of war has frustrated plans to translocate European
bison from Poland to the Chornobyl Biosphere Reserve in
Ukraine – part of a multi-year effort to create the
largest free-roaming herd of bison in Europe on over 200,000
hectares of protected areas stretching from Ukraine to
Belarus. Investments in improving the management of
protected areas have also been suspended, including
investment in park facilities and infrastructure. The
process of granting official protection to over 10,000
hectares of virgin forest, which had been expected in 2022,
is on hold. 

Investing in the
future

After the war, a thorough assessment of the
overall environmental impacts will be needed to identify
priorities and provide a basis for planning clean-up as well
as restoration and reconstruction. The environmental impacts
of the war will not end when the war ends – the legacy of
the war will continue in pollution of water, land, and air
if these are not addressed. The task of removing, let alone
safely disposing of, these pollutants will be enormous, but
essential. We depend on the environment for our welfare and
well-being, so ensuring a healthy environment will be
fundamentally important.

Unfortunately, the
environmental impacts of the war will also continue through
reconstruction. Rebuilding damaged buildings and
infrastructure will require vast amounts of resources and
produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases and other forms of
pollution. This too must be added to the ledger of the
war’s environmental costs.

At least these costs can
be mitigated by “building back better” – by using
circular economy principles in deciding what to build, how
to build it, and what to build it with, by applying rigorous
climate and biodiversity safeguards, and allocating
sufficient funds for short- and long-term measures for
monitoring and restoring Ukraine’s nature.

Ensuring
this will be the responsibility not only of Ukraine’s
government, but also of international donors and finance
institutions. We call on the international expert and NGO
community to support Ukraine in identifying and pursuing the
most efficient and effective ways of achieving sustainable
recovery from the impacts of war. WWF is committed to fully
engaging in this process.

The war has already been a
disaster for nature and the environment – and there is no
end in sight. First and foremost, the war must end. But when
it finally stops, we will need to “build back better”
– ensuring that the investment that follows focuses not
just on reconstructing what has been lost, but that it also
invests in a better and more sustainable
future.

© Scoop Media

 

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