Law Division

Preventing Military Impacts on Environments


Whilst often overlooked as a cause of environmental degradation, military activities, particularly civil or international war, is also a significant contributor to such harms as deforestation, pollution and loss of biodiversity. Government’s conducting military actions have historically gone unchecked in relation to the related environmental impacts. Yet, increasingly, the wanton destruction of natural resources that military activities often entail has been identified as an area where international laws are needed to prevent unnecessary environmental impacts.   


Previously, governments gave little thought to the environmental impacts of their military actions. A turning point came at the United Nation’s Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992 where nations present recognised that military activities in the past had caused or contributed to different types of destruction to natural resources Chapter 20 of Agenda 21 focused on this specific issue. This was the beginning of legal efforts to regulate and monitor the environmental impacts of military activities.

Since then, ongoing meetings on this topic have been held to establish a baseline of environmental norms that should be applicable to all nations or groups engaged in military activities so as to prevent unnecessary environmental impacts. Consequently, several international agreements now exist which outline the environmental norms that have been developed. Yet, there is a distinct need to enhance these basic norms and to promote their application by all countries, whether they are engaged in real or practice military maneuvers.


With these issues falling within the mandate of Montevideo Programme, UNEP has been committed to enhancing the environmental norms relating to military activities. Subsequently, DELC has worked to bring together governments to discuss and strengthen the international laws aimed at preventing environmental. In doing so, DELC has convened the following key meetings: 

  • Regional meeting on the Application on Environmental Norms by Military Establishments in Kenya, October 3-5, 2007.
    CSOs were allowed to participate in this meeting by submitting their reports. CSOs compiled and submitted 13 reports from 10 countries. The secretariat of the UNEP reproduced and distributed our CSO report to all the participants of the regional meeting on October 4th, and some of the issues covered by our report had been brought forward by the participants themselves and addressed during the meeting.
  • International meeting on Environmental Norms and Military Activities in Switzerland, December 10-11, 2009.
    The purpose of the meeting was to provide governments and relevant stakeholders with an opportunity to exchange information and share experiences concerning the application of environmental norms by military establishments.


In bringing together governments to negotiate and, in-turn enhance, environmental norms regulating the impacts on natural resources by military activities, DELC seeks to promote:

  • Development of national environmental policies for the military sector, and national activities;
  • Contribution from the military sector towards the achievement of national environmental laws, policies, goals and objectives aimed at achieving sustainable development; and,
  • Assessments of damage to the environment caused by military activities and the need for and feasibility of clean up and restoration in such areas where damage has occurred.