KPI hosts International Ecology and Peace Forum

2024-05-18 10:44:55

Oleksandr KORNIYENKO, First Deputy Speaker of Verkhovna Rada, addresses Forum participants

The Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI) hosted the International Ecology and Peace Forum on May 15-16. The event was organized by the Ukrainian Peace Council (UPC), the All-Ukrainian Innovation Ecosystem Sikorsky Challenge Ukraine, and the International NGO Council on Environmental Safety. Co-organizers included the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Building Chamber of Ukraine, the All-Ukrainian NGO Women's Union of Ukraine, the NGO International Institute – Association of Regional Ecological Problems, and the NGO Ukrainian Alliance.

The busy format of the first forum's day included the international conference titled "Ecology and Peace", and a session on the humanitarian demining of Ukrainian lands. This session featured a panel discussion about the innovative techniques and problems of humanitarian demining of Ukrainian lands during military operations and in the postwar period. In addition, there was a startup projects and engineering developments competition in the environmental area, covering topics such as humanitarian demining of Ukrainian lands, water and reservoir purification, waste collection and recycling (including nuclear waste), energy and environmental security. The international jury summarized the results of the competition and announced the best projects and teams.

"Together, we can do much more than we can do alone" was the underlying theme of the event.

The Forum’s purpose, as stated in its Concept, is to unite the public, scientists, and educators together with government agencies and bodies of local self-government to implement the eighth point of the Ukrainian Peace Formula: prevention of ecocide. What better way to unite than through knowledge about the gist of the problems and readiness to resolve them?

"Russia's military aggression against Ukraine has caused irreparable damage to the environment and society," said Mykhailo Zgurovsky, UPC Head and KPI Rector, opening the Forum. "Destructive processes have occurred across the vast area of our country: soil, water, and air pollution as a result of explosions, fires, and toxic emissions. This is the loss of biodiversity, which has already entailed the destruction of ecosystems, mass destruction of wildlife, and a negative effect on species conservation efforts. This is a humanitarian crisis, primarily due to the displacement of millions of people, restricted access to food, water, and medical care, and the illegal deportation of children..."


Mykhailo Zgurovsky also focused on the country's great economic losses. A United Nations investigation has found that the damage caused to Ukraine is reaching $1 trillion. Human rights violations also constitute ecocide: russian invaders committed violence, looting, torture, and other crimes against civilians.


The aggressor's criminal actions lead to long-term grave consequences not only for Ukraine’s environment and society, but also have a global impact on environmental stability on the European continent and the international order, Mykhailo Zgurovsky stated. The task facing the public is to analyze these processes, intensify work with the international community to make public and expose the truth about the crimes of russian invaders to international courts in order to achieve Ukraine's victory and restore a just peace.


Oleksandr Korniyenko, First Deputy Speaker of Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament), called russia the "anti-environmental dictatorship." In his speech, he stated, "Everything it is doing proves this: the seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, attacks on the Kaniv, Kremenchuk and DniproGES hydroelectric power plants... shelling of territories, huge mine-laying operations. Russia has turned the Crimean peninsula, the pearl of the Black Sea, into a militarized base."


"No one wants peace more than Ukraine," Mr. Korniyenko continued. "However, it must be a just peace, which is why we have President Zelenskiy's Peace Formula. It is very important that one of its points addresses the environmental issue, and Verkhovna Rada is working on this flat out."


The First Deputy Speaker of Verkhovna Rada also touched on energy security issues, calling for dialogs with the scientific community about decentralization, production of balancing capacities, use of renewable sources of power, and energy storage, which KPI has long been working on.


He further addressed the condition of reservoirs, particularly the future of the Kakhovka floodplain. "We should develop a national policy through discussions, above all with scientists, energy specialists, and environmental protection agencies, to come up with the right solutions." Oleksandr Kornienko expressed his belief that the final documents of the Forum would arouse great interest and help apply these solutions.


Other speakers at the official opening of the Forum included Petro Shyliuk, President of the Building Chamber of Ukraine and Hero of Ukraine; Valerii Korol, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Ukraine; Leokadiia Gerasymenko, Head of the Board of the All-Ukrainian NGO Women's Union of Ukraine; Yurii Sytnyk, Head of the Environmental Security Office at the Main Department of Mine Action, Civil Defense and Environmental Security under the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine; and Volodymyr Yurchenko, Head of the Youth Wing of the Ukrainian Peace Council.


Welcome words from Leonid Kuchma, Chairman of the KPI Supervisory Board and President of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005, were read out. Additionally, a welcoming speech by Christine Kovshevych Durbak, President of the World Information Transfer (consultative status with the UN), was delivered via video address to the audience.


Is the world approaching a catastrophe? How can we counteract it?


The discussion about russia's environmental crimes in Ukraine, in the context of international law, nuclear terrorism and threats to international security, continued during the international conference "Ecology and Peace". The conference was moderated by Valerii Tsybukh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, UPC Deputy Head, and Chairman of the Council on Environmental Safety. He also presented a report entitled "Prevention of Ecocide as a Feature in the Ukrainian Peace Formula."


As the speaker put it, the Ukrainian Peace Formula recognizes ecocide as a crime against the environment, requiring legal regulation at both national and global levels. A particularly severe form of ecocide is military ecocide, which disrupts ecosystems and human habitat in the aftermath of military operations.


The primary challenge is developing and implementing an effective mechanism to ensure environmental security.


According to calculations, one day of war costs Ukraine's environment 4 billion hryvnias. Data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources show that Ukraine's total environmental damage exceeds 2 trillion hryvnias, or some $60 billion. In Ukraine, 2,300 cases of environmental crimes have been officially documented. Some ecosystems have been lost forever, and 30% of the country's territory is contaminated with mines. Just think about it, a third of the entire country.


The risks of a nuclear disaster still persist. Russia blackmails the entire world by threatening to blow up the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Millions of hectares of forests have been burned by shelling, and dozens of coal mines flooded. Mr. Tsybukh reminded the audience about the Yunkom mine in the Donetsk region (Ed. – known as the Young Communard mine), where an underground nuclear test explosion was conducted in 1979. Located in the occupied territory, the mine has remained flooded for several years because of the invaders. Its current condition poses a great threat not only to the rivers in the Donetsk region but also to the Azov Sea and the entire Black Sea basin. Only the complete de-occupation of Ukrainian lands can create the conditions for removing this threat.


"We need to find common answers to the threats created by the war," emphasized Valerii Tsybukh. "This is not only our problem but the problem of the entire world. Our task is to unite the efforts of the global community to stop ecocide and eliminate its consequences. The eighth point of the Peace Formula is not only about counting the crimes committed. An international working group analyzing the consequences of the war has worked out and presented an international treaty for Ukraine, which serves as a roadmap for bringing russia to justice."


The speaker believes that there are three guidelines to address: first, the assessment of environmental damage, particularly the long-term consequences, compensation for damages, and prosecution. The second is the transition to ecological restoration, and therefore to a green economy. This requires the enhancement of existing provisions in both national and international legislation. Ecocide must be made the fifth international crime by the International Criminal Court.


The UPC considers it essential to revisit the proposal for establishing a UN Environmental Security Council, as well as framing an environmental Constitution of the Earth, and setting up regulatory and control bodies.


Can Muscovy be brought to justice?


Presenting the report entitled "Russia's Environmental Crimes in Ukraine in the Light of International Law", Yuriy Sergeyev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and long-time representative of Ukraine to the UN, asked rhetorically: "Can Muscovy be brought to justice for environmental crimes?"


Mr. Sergeyev's answer is that it is difficult but possible. Why is it difficult? Firstly, international law, specifically international environmental law, is not brought to sheer perfection. There are ongoing discussions about the establishment of an international environmental court. There are questions about including the crime of ecocide as the fifth international crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).


It is also challenging because, for instance, important resolutions of the UN General Assembly are recommendatory only, and not legally binding. Furthermore, the UN Security Council cannot set up a special tribunal and a commission on reparations for environmental damage because Russia would veto such a decision. There are other difficulties as well.


However, russia can and should be brought to justice. To do so, we need to leverage the available legal opportunities. "International law has nevertheless accumulated basic documents of a general political nature, which, even if purely declarative, impose moral and political responsibility for environmental protection on the signatories," notes Yuriy Sergeyev. These include the 1962 UN General Assembly Special Resolution on Economic Development and the Conservation of Nature and the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. In 1980, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, originally introduced by the USSR: "Historical Responsibility of States for the Preservation of Nature for Present and Future Generations".


The UN General Assembly adopted the World Charter for Nature in 1982, which imposes responsibility on all states to preserve the planet and its natural resources. The UN action plan for achieving sustainable development during the 21st century, Agenda 21, was adopted in Rio de Janeiro, emphasizing the responsibility of all UN member states to future generations for the preservation of the planet.


The confrontation between russia and Ukraine exhibits signs of an international armed conflict, although russia has been attempting to allege that it is an internal civil conflict. However, construing the situation under international law does not depend on its definition under national laws. By unleashing a war and causing enormous environmental damage, russia appears to be a violator of basic international documents. The facts of violation of the fundamental documents should be used for the international prosecution of russia.


According to Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine is considering various mechanisms to duly investigate and prosecute russian criminals. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba made a public statement in London on March 4, 2022, calling for a special tribunal to investigate and prosecute russia's crime of aggression against Ukraine. In September of the same year, the President of Ukraine issued a decree on a working group that considered the establishment of a special international tribunal for the punishment of the crime of aggression against Ukraine and identified the options of setting it up. These options truly do exist.


At the same time, the ICC, whose statute provides for criminal responsibility for actions related to damage to the natural environment during an armed conflict, may bring Moscow's criminals to justice as well. This precedent was set on March 17, 2023, when ICC judges issued warrants for two russian individuals, Putin and Lvova-Belova, for war crimes in Ukraine, specifically the illegal deportation of children.


(Read about speeches and presentations by other participants in the Forum, questions discussed at the Forum, and the startup competition in our next publications)