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Environmental Damage Is a War Crime, Scientists Say
Two dozen prominent scientists from around the world have asked the UN to make environmental damage in conflict zones a war crime. The scientists published their open letter in the journal Nature.
The letter, titled "Stop Military Conflicts from Trashing the Environment," asks the United Nations' International Law Commission to adopt a Fifth Geneva Convention when it meets later this month. The UN group is scheduled to hold a meeting with the aim of building on the 28 principles it has already drafted to protect the environment and lands sacred to indigenous people, according to The Guardian.
Damage to protected areas during a military skirmish should be considered a war crime on par with violations of human rights, the scientists say. If the UN adopts their suggestions, the principles would include measures to hold governments accountable for the damage done by their militaries, as well as legislation to curb the international arms trade.
"We call on governments to incorporate explicit safeguards for biodiversity, and to use the commission's recommendations to finally deliver a Fifth Geneva Convention to uphold environmental protection during such confrontations," the letter reads.
Currently, the four existing Geneva Conventions and their three additional protocols are globally recognized standards enshrined into international law. It dictates humane treatment for wounded troops in the field, soldiers shipwrecked at sea, prisoners of war, and civilians during armed conflicts. Violating the treaties amounts to a war crime, as Common Dreams reported.
"Despite calls for a fifth convention two decades ago, military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction, and poison water resources," the letter reads. "The uncontrolled circulation of arms exacerbates the situation, for instance by driving unsustainable hunting of wildlife."
Sarah M. Durant of the Zoological Society of London and José C. Brito of the University of Porto in Portugal drafted the letter. The 22 other signatories, mostly from Africa and Europe, are affiliated with organizations and institutions in Egypt, France, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Libya, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States.
"The brutal toll of war on the natural world is well documented, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities and driving many species, already under intense pressure, towards extinction," said Durant, as the The Guardian reported. "We hope governments around the world will enshrine these protections into international law. This would not only help safeguard threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction."
The idea for adding environmental protections to the Geneva Convention first arose during the Vietnam war when the U.S. military used massive amounts of Agent Orange to clear millions of acres of forests which had long term adverse consequences on human health, wildlife populations and soil quality. Work on the idea picked up in earnest in the early 90s when Iraq burned Kuwaiti oil wells and the U.S. fired off bombs and missiles with depleted uranium, which poisoned Iraqi soil and water, as Common Dreams reported.
The effects of conflict have been proven recently in the Sahara-Sahel region, where cheetahs, gazelles and other species have suffered rapid population loss due to the spread of guns following Libya's civil war. Conflicts in Mali and Sudan have correlated with an uptick in elephant killings, as The Guardian reported.
"The impacts of armed conflict are causing additional pressure to imperiled wildlife from the Middle East and north Africa," said Brito to the Guardian. "Global commitment is needed to avoid the likely extinction of emblematic desert fauna over the next decade."
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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