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An open letter from 24 scientists published in Nature last month calls on governments to draft a new Geneva Convention dedicated to protecting the environment during armed conflict.
This inspired a number of headlines that misleadingly said the scientists want environmental destruction to be made a war crime.
Destruction - War - Crime - International - Criminal
But environmental destruction is already recognised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. The existing legal framework governing armed conflict also provides some protections for the environment.
The problem is these protections are inadequate, inconsistent, unclear, and most military behaviour won't fall foul of these laws.
Geneva - Conventions - Additional - Protocols - Conduct
There are currently four Geneva Conventions and three Additional Protocols that are supposed to regulate conduct during armed conflict, sometimes known as the rules of war.
The original four Geneva Conventions, which celebrate their 70th anniversary this year, contain no explicit mention of the natural environment.
Use - Agent - Orange - Agents - White
The use of Agent Orange (and Agents White and Blue) to defoliate huge spans of land during the Vietnam War led to the introduction of the first specific protections for the environment during armed conflict.
Following the Vietnam War, two major developments in the law occurred.
Video - Seconds - Soldiers - Agent - Orange
It’s shaky video to begin with but 18 seconds in you see US soldiers spraying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
The first was the adoption of the United Nation's Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques Convention (ENMOD) that prohibits the hostile use of environment-altering techniques that have "widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects."
Second - Inclusion - Provisions - Additional - Protocol
The second was the inclusion of provisions in Additional Protocol I (API) that prohibits methods or means intended or expected to cause "widespread, long term, and severe damage to the natural environment" during warfare.
Both treaties set a very high threshold for falling foul of the prohibitions. API requires that all three elements of damage—widespread, long term, and severe—must be met...
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