The natural environment under IHL is considered to constitute the natural world together with the system of inextricable interrelations between living organisms and their inanimate environment, in the widest sense possible. It includes everything that exists or occurs naturally, such as the general hydrosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere, as well as natural elements that are or may be the product of human intervention, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas, drinking water and livestock. The natural environment is protected by general IHL rules, including those governing the conduct of hostilities, inter alia by the prohibition to target civilian objects, by the proportionality rule protecting civilian objects against incidental effects of attacks and the obligation to take feasible precautions for the benefit of civilian objects. IHL also contains rules that specifically protect the natural environment as such, including the prohibition to use methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment. Attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals are also prohibited.



PI, 35/3 and 55

CIHL, 43, 44 and 45  





Suggested readings:   ANTOINE Philippe, “International Humanitarian Law and the Protection of the Environment in Time of Armed Conflict”, in IRRC, No. 291, November-December 1992, pp. 517-537.   AUSTIN Jay E. & BRUCH Karl E. (eds), The environmental consequences of war, Cambridge, CUP, 2000, 712 pp.   BODANSKY Daniel, Legal Regulation of the Effect of Military Activity on the Environment, Berlin, Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2003, 126 pp.   BOTHE Michael, “The Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict”, in German Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 34, 1991, p. 54.   BOTHE Michael, et al., “International law protecting the environment during armed conflict: Gaps and opportunities”, in IRRC, Vol. 92, No. 879, 2010, pp. 569–592. BOUVIER Antoine, “Protection of the Natural Environment in Time of Armed Conflict”, in IRRC, No. 285, November-December 1991, pp. 567-578.   BOUVIER Antoine, “Recent Studies on the Protection of the Environment in Time of Armed Conflict”, in IRRC, No. 291, November-December 1992, pp. 554-566.   DORSOUMA Hamndou & BOUCHARD Michel-André, “Conflits armés et environnement : cadre, modalités, méthodes et rôle de l’évaluation environnementale”, in Développement durable et territoire Dossier 8, 2007, 17 pp.  DROEGE Cordula & TOUGAS Marie-Louise, “The protection of the natural environment in armed conflict: Existing rules and need for further legal protection”, in Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 82, No. 1, 2013, pp. 21–52. HALPERN, Michaela, “Protecting vulnerable environments in armed conflict: deficiencies in international humanitarian law”, in Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol. 51, No. 2, Summer 2015, pp. 119-146. HENCKAERTS Jean-Marie & CONSTANTIN Dana, “Protection of the natural environment”, in CLAPHAM, Andrew & GAETA Paola, The Oxford handbook of international law in armed conflict, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, pp. 469-491. HULME, Karen, “Taking care to protect the environment against damage: A meaningless obligation?”, in IRRC, Vol. 92, No. 879, September 2010, pp. 675–691. HULME Karen, War Torn Environment: Interpreting the Legal Threshold, Leiden, M. Nijhoff, 2004, p. 340. 

ICRC, Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Armed Conflict, ICRC, Geneva, 2020.  ICRC, Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts, ICRC, Geneva, 2011.

ICRC, When Rain Turns to Dust: Understanding and Responding to the Combined Impact of Armed Conflicts and the Climate and Environment Crisis on People’s Lives, ICRC, Geneva, 2020. International Law Commission, Draft principles on protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts, 2022.

KISS Alexandre, “Les Protocoles additionels aux Conventions de Genève de 1977 et la protection de biens de l’environnement”, in Studies and Essays on International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet, Geneva/The Hague, ICRC/M. Nijhoff, 1984, pp. 229-262.   MARSH Jeremy J., “Lex Lata or Lex Ferenda?: Rule 45 of the ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law”, in Military Law Review, Vol. 198, 2008, pp. 116-164.  MAURER, Peter, “Protecting the Natural Environment in Armed Conflicts: An ICRC View” in Environmental Policy and Law, 2021.   MOLLARD BANNELIER Karine, La protection de l’environnement en temps de conflit armé, Paris, Pedone, 2001, 542 pp.   MOMTAZ Djamchid, “Les règles relatives à la protection de l’environnement au cours des conflicts armés à l’épreuve du conflit entre l’Irak et le Koweit”, in AFDI, 1991, pp. 203-220.   POWER Mark, “La protection de l’environnement en droit international humanitaire : le cas du Kosovo”, in Ottawa Law Review, Vol. 33, 2001-2002, pp. 225-254.   REYHANI Roman, “Protection of the Environment During Armed Conflict”, in MissouriEnvironmental Law and Policy Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2007, pp. 323-338.   SCHMITT Michael N., “Humanitarian Law and the Environment”, in The DenverJournal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 28/3, 2000, 265-323.   SPIEKER Heike, “The Conduct of Hostilities and the Protection of the Environment”, in Frieden in Freiheit = Peace in Liberty = Paix en liberté: Festschrift für Michael Bothe zum 70 Geburtstag, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2008, pp. 741-768.   United Nations Environmental Programme, Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict: an Inventory and Analysis of International Law, Nairobi, United Nations Environment Programme, November 2009, 83 pp. Further readings:   ALEXANDER Nicholas G., “Airstrikes and Environmental Damage: Can the United States be Held Liable for Operation Allied Force?”, in Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy, Vol. 11/2, 2000, pp. 471-498.   BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES Laurence, DESGAGNÉ Richard & ROMANO Cesare, Protection internationale de l’environnement. Recueil d’instruments juridiques, Paris, Pedone, 1998, 1117 pp.   BOSTIAN Ida L., “The Environmental Consequences of the Kosovo Conflict and the NATO Bombing of Serbia”, in Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy, 1999, pp. 230-240.  DE LA BOURDONNAYE, Thibaud, “Greener insurgencies? Engaging non-state armed groups for the protection of the natural environment during non-international armed conflicts”, in IRRC, Vol. 102, No. 914, December 2021, pp. 579-605.   DESGAGNÉ Richard, “The Prevention of Environmental Damage in Time of Armed Conflict: Proportionality and Precautionary Measures”, in YIHL, Vol. 3, 2000, pp. 109-129.  DIENELT, Anne, Armed Conflicts and the Environment: Complementing the Laws of Armed Conflict with Human Rights Law and International Environmental Law, Springer, Cham, 2022.   DRUMBL Mark A., “Waging War against the World: The Need to Move from War Crimes to Environmental Crimes”, in Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 22/1, 1998, pp. 122-153.   GRADITZKY Thomas, “La licéité de l’emploi des armes nucléaires et la protection de l’environnement”, in L’observateur des Nations Unies, Vol. 2, 1997, pp. 23-38.   GRUNAWALT Richard J., KING John E. & McCLAIN Ronald S. (eds), Protection of the Environment During Armed Conflict, Newport, Naval War College, Vol. 19, 1996, 720 pp.   KOPPE Erik, The Use of Nuclear Weapons and the Protection of the Environment During International Armed Conflict, Portland (USA), Hart Publishing, 2008, 447 pp.   LAWRENCE Jessica C. & HELLER Kevin Jon, “The First Ecocentric Environmental War Crime: the Limits of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute”, in Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2007, pp. 61-95.   MARAUHN Thilo, “Environmental Damage in Times of Armed Conflict – Not ‘Really’ a Matter of Criminal Responsibility?”, in IRRC, No. 840, December 2000, pp. 1029-2036.  MERRY, Grace & MACEDO, Julia, “Derecho internacional humanitario y medio ambiente: hacia mejores estándares de debida consideración”, in Anuario Iberoamericano sobre Derecho Internacional Humanitario, Vol. 2, 2021, p. 19-44.   OKOWA Phoebe N., “Natural Resources in Situations of Armed Conflict: Is There a Coherent Framework for Protection?”, in International Community Law Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2007, pp. 237-262.

PAYNE, Cymie, “Protection of the natural environment”, in SAUL Ben and AKANDE Dapo (eds.), The Oxford Guide to International Humanitarian Law, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2020, pp. 205–234.   PETERSON Ines, “The Natural Environment in Times of Armed Conflict: a Concern for International War Crimes Law?”, in LeidenJournal of International Law, Vol. 22, Issue 2, 2009, pp. 325-343.   PLANT Glen, “Environmental Damage and the Laws of War: Points Addressed to Military Lawyers”, in FOX Hazel & MEYER Michael A. (eds), Armed Conflict and the New Law, Volume II – Effecting Compliance, 1993, pp. 159-174.   REICHBERG Gregory & SYSE Henrik, “Protecting the Natural Environment in Wartime: Ethical Considerations from the Just War Tradition”, in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37/4, 2000, pp. 449-468.   RICHARDS Peter J., “Mars Meets Mother Nature: Protecting the Environment during Armed Conflict”, in Stetson Law Review, Vol. 28/4, 1999, pp. 1047-1090.   ROBERTS Adam, “Environmental Destruction in the Gulf War”, in IRRC, No. 291, November-December 1992, pp. 538-553.   ROBERTS Adam, “Failures in Protecting the Environment in the 1990-91 Gulf War”, in ROWE Peter (ed.), The Gulf War 1990-91 in International and English Law, London, Sweet & Maxwell, 1993, pp. 111-154.   SCHMITT Michael N., “The Environmental Law of War: An Invitation to Critical Re-examination”, in Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 6, 1995-96, pp. 237-271.   SHARP Peter, “Prospects for Environmental Liability in the International Criminal Court”, in Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 18/2, 1999, pp. 217-243.   SCHWABACH Aaron, “Environmental Damage Resulting from the NATO Military Action against Yugoslavia”, in ColumbiaJournal of Environmental Law, Vol. 25/1, 2000, pp. 117-140.

SMITH, Tara, “Critical perspectives on environmental protection in non-international armed conflict: Developing the principles of distinction, proportionality and necessity”, in Leiden Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, 2019, p. 759-779. STAHN Carsten, IVERSON Jens & EASTERDAY Jennifer S.  (eds.), Environmental protection and transitions from conflict to peace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017. THOMAS, Carson, “Advancing the legal protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict: Protocol I’s threshold of impermissible environmental damage and alternatives”, in Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 82, No. 1, 2013, pp. 83–101.   VAN DER VYVER Johan D., “The Environment: State Sovereignty, Human Rights, and Armed Conflict”, in Emory International Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2009, pp. 85-112.   YORK Christopher, “International Law and the Collateral Effects of War on the Environment: The Persian Gulf”, in South Africa Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 7, 1991, pp. 269-290.   YUZON E.F.J., “Deliberate Environmental Modification Through the Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons: Greening the International Laws of Armed Conflict to Establish an Environmentally Protective Regime”, in American University Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 11, 1996, pp. 793-846.   “Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict”, in IRRC, No. 311, March-April 1996, pp. 230-237.