New Policy Brief on the Environment by Mine Action Review
As demonstrated by the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, currently taking place in Glasgow, environmental considerations are rightly gaining increased prominence and awareness globally, with stakeholders across a myriad of sectors increasingly identifying and assessing how their operations impact the environment. The mine action sector is no exception.
Mine Action Review has launched Mitigating the Environmental Impacts of Explosive Ordnance and Land Release, its new Policy Brief which serves as an important resource for national authorities and their implementing partners in affected countries as they seek to identify and minimise their environmental footprint.
This Policy Brief builds on existing knowledge and research and outlines the key environmental impacts of explosive ordnance contamination and land release operations and the potential impact of climate change on land release. It also offers an overview of the environmental impacts of post-clearance land use; outlines some of the relevant regulatory frameworks and treaty commitments; and emphasises the importance of environmental management. The aim is to present the key issues in an accessible format while offering recommendations of measures that would improve environmental management practices within the sector.
The Policy Brief has benefited from interviews with clearance operators and other implementing partners, and through written input from stakeholders across the sector, including affected States. It offers the mine action sector straightforward guidance which, it is hoped, will promote discussion and stimulate further research, including more systematic follow-up once land is safely released in order to monitor environmental impacts.
As emphasised in Mitigating the Environmental Impacts of Explosive Ordnance and Land Release, there is not only a humanitarian and legal imperative to clear explosive ordnance for the safety and security of the population, but also an environmental imperative to do so because of the negative impact munitions can have on the natural environment. Clearance programmes have a responsibility to “do no harm” to the communities in which they work, which includes mitigating the negative environmental impact of their activities and systematically integrating environmental assessments into the planning process.
While clearing explosive ordnance inevitably has an environmental impact, employing efficient and effective land release methods minimises this impact by ensuring that assets are only used on contaminated land. Post-clearance land use should also be actively considered when planning clearance activities, particularly in areas where contamination can be protective of certain aspects of the natural environment.
In addition, the environmental impact of clearance programmes goes beyond the clearance itself and also includes the generation of waste, soil degradation from vegetation removal or mechanical demining, and pollution resulting from the detonation of items of explosive ordnance.
The Policy Brief demonstrates that even small changes can make a positive difference to the protection of the natural environment, and environmental mitigation measures may demand only limited additional resources.
It also highlights that over the medium to long term, climate change has the potential to significantly impact mine action activities, both in how tasks are prioritised and how mine clearance is conducted.
However, most mine action actors are not yet gathering and reporting sufficient data on the environmental impact of their work. The sector would benefit from increasing the evidence base of what works and what doesn’t in terms of environmental mitigation interventions. The sector would also benefit from further cross-sectoral experience from, and knowledge sharing with, environmental organisations and institutions involved in community-based sustainable agriculture, forest preservation, and environmental safeguarding. Involving environmental experts together with local communities from the start of the land release process is key to improving environmental management practices.
Alex Frost, Mine Action Review researcher and author of the brief emphasises:
“In the Policy Brief, as well as highlighting the key issues in relation to survey and clearance of explosive ordnance and the environment, we also draw conclusions and make some recommendations for the sector based on what we’ve identified as the current gaps in knowledge and provision. These recommendations include the need for affected states to have a national mine action standard on environmental management; how environmental assessment tools should be integrated into programme planning activities; and the importance of community engagement, systematic data collection, and building knowledge about the environment across the sector.
In addition to this, the funding needs to be in place to enable national mine action authorities and operators to mainstream environmental considerations into their programme activities and to conduct more systematic follow-up after land is released to monitor environmental impacts.”