What should post-war environmental assessment in Ukraine be?

What should post-war environmental assessment in Ukraine be?

Photo: ua.depositphotos.com / leonid_tit
6 June 2023

In this article we review selected past and current environmental assessments implemented in Ukraine, discuss their functions, formats and outcomes, and suggest the most effective approach for the post-war comprehensive environmental assessment. The findings point to the Integrated Environmental Assessment as the most effective assessment instrument to underpin the development of green recovery and reconstruction strategy and associated actions plans for post-war Ukraine.   


The Government of Ukraine sees the National Recovery Plan “as a potential for Ukraine to ensure the green transition to the new green economy that will fully integrate into the European economy”. In the post-war country the “green transition” would imply creating the technological foundation, enabling regulatory environment as well as priority developing and implementing systemic actions and measures for adopting, promoting and realizing the EU Green Deal at the national arena as stipulated in the “Environmental Safety” Section of the Draft Recovery Plan for Ukraine.

A green recovery and reconstruction strategy and respective policies need to be developed, adopted and implemented. To support the development of the strategy and policies, which should be robust, implementable, tailored to Ukrainian circumstances and harmonized with the national development paradigm, it is necessary to perform a comprehensive and consistent analysis of the state of the environment and environmental governance in the country, nature and degree of environmental change that occurred as a result of the war, the environmental losses and damages, possible policy options to remedy the situation,  the cost of action and inaction as well as likely scenarios for the future.

The necessary analytical resource to support this policy development can be created through implementing a national-scale comprehensive post-war environmental assessment building on the best available data and knowledge and applying an effective assessment methodology. We believe that using a widely accepted Integrated Environment Assessment (IEA) methodology for implementing the post-war environmental assessment may be the most appropriate solution for this task. This article discusses feasibility of the IEA and substantiates it as the most relevant instrument to support the national policy development needs in post-war Ukraine.

An overview of pre-war environmental assessments

Over the last 30 years, a number of environmental assessments, as well as other assessments which inter alia addressed environmental dimensions, have been implemented in Ukraine by the government and/or international and non-governmental organizations. 

The Government of Ukraine is responsible for the preparation of several important recurrent assessment reports that are introduced below.

First, there is the National Report on the State of the Environment of Ukraine with the latest issue covering 2021. This annual report has been produced, published and submitted to the Parliament of Ukraine by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine (MEPNR) since 1992. Today it is the most comprehensive source of data on the state and trends of the environment in Ukraine and environmental policy development and implementation. This report substantially builds on the official statistical data. In addition, every oblast administration produces a similar-format annual assessment report on the state of the environment of their region. The report provides information on the state policy and measures towards achieving environmental goals and targets (for more details of the goals and targets see here, here and here).

Although the report is regular and informative, recently it was criticized by the majority of stakeholders for its low impact on policy making, inadequate response to social demand and insufficient involvement of main stakeholders in the report development process. By including an outlook and intensely communicating the report, MEPNR could make it an agenda-setting instrument for societal and policy discussion. 

Other assessments and/or comprehensive analytical studies often focus on a single central thematic area/issue and do not necessarily include a thorough environmental analysis. The reports may include environmental impacts and policy analyses, in some cases combined with assumptions/projections about economic and social development. Some of these assessments are developed to fulfill international obligations of Ukraine and they are often tied to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) or other global or regional multilateral processes where this reporting is required. The national communication to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the national report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity are the most well-known.

The National Communication of Ukraine to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change contains baseline information on emissions and the greenhouse gases (GHG) inventory; policies and measures to reduce GHG emissions and their projected effects; a vulnerability assessment and adaptation measures. It provides policy recommendations, including required financial resources, transfer of technologies, and education. 

The National Report of Ukraine to the Convention on Biological Diversity informs on the progress in achieving national biodiversity targets as well as measures taken to achieve these, their effectiveness, associated barriers, and scientific and technical needs.

Note that regularly reporting to MEAs often puts an additional burden on the national institutions involved. It requires building and sustaining national assessment capacities whose assessment outputs must comply with international guidelines and standards. Therefore, their expertise and capacities may benefit a comprehensive national assessment.

Several specialized intergovernmental organizations provide their own environmental assessments of Ukraine.

The Ukraine Country Environmental Analysis was once produced in 2016 by the World Bank “to assess the adequacy and performance of the policy, legal, and institutional framework for environmental management in Ukraine, in light of the decentralization process of environmental governance and wider reform objectives, and to provide recommendations to government to address the key gaps identified”. This report was based on existing reports, expert interviews and stakeholder discussions. Noteworthy, it provided “key policy recommendations” including preparation and implementation of a “Roadmap for Reform of Environmental Management in Ukraine”. Many of these recommendations were later included into regulatory acts on  the national system of environmental management.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe involved Ukraine in the Environmental Performance Review (EPR) process. Two EPRs were undertaken with the second report released in 2007. The EPRs thoroughly evaluated Ukraine’s progress in environmental governance, looked at important issues concerning environmental policymaking, planning, implementation and financing, as well as the integration of environmental concerns into economic sectors and the promotion of sustainable development. According to EPR impacts evaluation, the EPR reports significantly influenced environmental policy development in the countries involved. The EPR process often triggered more cooperation between environmental and other governmental bodies resulting in better integration of environmental concerns into sectoral policies, attracting the resources and attention to significant environmental issues and improving international cooperation. 

The “Sustainable Development Goals Ukraine: Voluntary National Review” deserves particular attention. It was the first and, for the time being, the only voluntary national-level review of the progress towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involving all major stakeholder groups.  The action-oriented report was based on a variety of information and analytical materials, and official statistical data. It looked at transformative changes in the society on the path towards achieving the SDGs between 2015 and 2019 and included recommendations on improving environmental policy, among others.

Based on this brief overview we may conclude that since independence the government, science and policy expert communities and civil society have accumulated enough expertise, experience,  networking capacity and institutional memory as well as built partnerships with international partners which would allow for successful implementation of complex multidisciplinary environmental assessments in Ukraine when needed.

Assessing impacts of the war

The attempts to assess environmental impacts of the war started soon after the invasion began and by the time of this study quite a few assessment reports have been released. This is rather unusual as reports which assess environmental impacts of armed conflicts are normally produced after the end of conflicts. This elevated attention should not be surprising since:

  • This has been the biggest armed conflict in Europe since World War II involving one of the largest European democracies on the one side and an authoritarian nuclear superpower on the other side.
  • Ukraine is a country which is well integrated in the global economy and trade. It is of critical significance for global food supply, as well as supply of certain metal ores and some other commodities.
  • Ukraine is a candidate to the EU; the nation is committed to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • This is a nation with numerous, skilled, motivated and influential diaspora spread globally.
  • Ukraine is also an asset for the European environment. The country manifests high ecosystem diversity: from wetlands in the Northern part to steppes in the South, from mountains in the West to industrial landscapes in the Eastern part. Many natural landscapes and ecosystems have now been affected significantly by the war.
  • Ukraine has a significant nuclear power sector including the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe (Zaporizhzha) and a notoriously-known Chernobyl Extraordinary Zone. Military activities in the close vicinity of nuclear installations obviously create an additional reason for concern.

Several assessments have been undertaken since April 2022. Note that expert teams had to deal with a lack of reliable systemic data on environmental impacts of the war. MEPNR, through the State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, has organized collecting data on emergencies, damage and destruction and documenting war-related environmental loss and damage to the possible extent. The Ministry also provides a weekly update on the environmental damage caused by the war. By February 2023, MEPNR had publicly disclosed 2,300+ cases and estimated the total financial damage at about US$50 billion. To supplement this data, the assessment teams often referred to information provided by civil society actors including hard-to-verify reports from mass media and social media as well as preliminary findings of various international non-governmental and (inter)governmental organizations. 

First is the preliminary review of environmental impacts of the war performed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report released in October 2022 summarized issues and impacts across six broad categories: chemical industries and chemicals associated with armed conflict; fuel and associated infrastructure; waste and waste infrastructure; urban and critical infrastructure; and damage to agriculture and to nature. The analysis was based on information from the Government of Ukraine, limited remote sensing data, and unverified reports from social media and regular media. Recognizing data limitations, the authors admitted that the report does not provide a comprehensive analysis but it informs of priorities for further assessment work.

An independent assessment of impacts of the war on the environment was prepared jointly by NGOs “Green World – Friends of the Earth” (Ukraine) and “Arnika” (Czechia). This assessment released in early 2023 analyzed the damage caused to the environment during the first nine months of the full-scale invasion. The authors looked into the energy and heavy industry sectors that posed significant environmental risks even during the peacetime. The analysis mostly concentrated on the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv oblasts. The authors looked at the war-environment nexus and associated post-war damage compensation mechanisms. Noteworthy, they tried to discuss the war implications for Ukraine’s future transition to sustainable development.

Initiative on GHG Accounting of War (November 2022) assessed the consequences of the war for climate change mitigation and adaptation. An interim assessment concluded that the first seven months of the full-scale war caused an additional emission of at least 97 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (a more refined analysis would likely produce higher estimates).

A few months later, a team of experts from Ukraine and other countries coordinated by the Chatham House released their analysis of the impacts of the war on human vulnerability to climate change. They assessed how the war impacts could undermine ambitious mitigation action not only in Ukraine but in the entire Eastern and Central Europe and even globally. The experts investigated the impacts of the war in terms of GHG emissions, considered consequences of the war for climate finance and provided policy recommendations for Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OECD) participating states for the short (during the war) and long (after the end of the war) term.

“Ukraine Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment” reports (August 2022 and February 2023) produced jointly by the World Bank, the Government of Ukraine, the European Commission, the United Nations and other partners stand out. Today they are considered and often referred to as the most authoritative source which provides an estimate of damage and losses from Russia’s invasion and Ukraine’s financial needs for the future.

As of February 2023 direct damage to Ukraine was estimated at US$135 billion, with housing, transport, energy, and commerce and industry being the most affected sectors. Another US$290 billion was an estimate of economic losses. Consequently, recovery and reconstruction needs amounted to about US$411 billion.

With respect to the environmental damage, this report suffers from incomplete and/or unreliable data to the same extent as other reports. Whereas damage and losses due to destruction and pollution of soil, water, biota, the marine environment and ecosystems, including the long-term consequences for climate and biodiversity, were acknowledged, it was virtually impossible to monetize them, and thus to make financial estimates of rehabilitation needs. Nor was it possible to correctly assess damage to human wellbeing due to air or water pollution or losses of ecosystem services.

Therefore, in the environment and forestry sector, only damages, losses and needs related to forest fires and mined forest areas, along with needs related to capacity building for environmental governance, were estimated. Consequently, the report only recommended allocating a meager US$1.5 billion (0.36% of the grand total) to address the needs of the environmental sector. This sector was not mentioned among the near-term implementation priorities either. Given such limitations, the assessment team prioritized capacity building for environmental monitoring, data management and assessment in order to not only support immediate rehabilitation action but also to underpin further policy planning and implementation in line with the green modernization of Ukraine.

There is a number of other studies, which to various extent address environmental impacts of the war, undertaken by the Conflict and Environment Observatory and Zoï Environment Network, OECD and others.

We highly appreciate the aspiration of the individual experts and organizations who have contributed their time, expertise and other resources to help Ukrainian society through the hardship of the war. However it is also clear that none of the recent assessment exercises has been able to produce a complete and authentic picture of the environmental situation in the country, nor could anyone have developed an outlook for the future. Fortunately, they have identified main data, information and monitoring gaps, methodological and managerial shortcomings, hot spots and sensitive areas as well as priorities for building capacities for environmental assessment. Many of them indicated that a more systemic and comprehensive assessment will be required as soon as the war ends. But what kind of assessment should it be? In the next sections we discuss the criteria for such an assessment and then provide the assessment framework that corresponds to these criteria.

Post-war environmental assessment functions, goals and expectations

We believe that the upcoming post-war environmental assessment should:  

  • Be scientifically credible, policy relevant, legitimate, forward-looking and solution-oriented;
  • Provide policy makers with comprehensive, reliable and consistent information on the state of the environment and environmental governance in the country, including analysis of the nature and degree of environmental change that occurred as a result of the war, the losses and damages to particular constituencies of the environment, challenges to society, possible policy options to remedy the situation as well as the cost of action and inaction;
  • Inform policy planning at the national and sub-national levels and provide solid justification for incorporating environmental concerns into national and sectoral strategies and policies;
  • Inform relevant national and international governing institutions, and multilateral fora on the state, trends and directions of the post-war Ukrainian environment, nationally agreed environmental goals, priority needs, strategies and policies;
  • Help assess the progress towards achieving environmental goals and targets and discuss policy options to speed up achieving these goals.

In order to meet the expectations and achieve the goals the assessment should:

  • Be implemented through a nation-wide multi-stakeholder, transparent, participatory, consultative process;
  • Mobilize reputable national experts and expert institutions to participate in the assessment development, while securing disciplinary balance among them;
  • Provide an organizing platform for validating, processing, packaging and contextualizing the wealth of data on the direct and indirect environmental impacts of the war which have been accumulated by different organizations;
  • Provide a platform for discussing cross-cutting and emerging environmental issues, analyzing (developing) projections and scenarios for the future based on integrated and/or thematic models;
  • Analyze drivers of environmental change, pressures on and state of the environment, environmental impacts and societal response to them through the lens of anticipated post-war green recovery and reconstruction;
  • Analyze critically outcomes of existing and ongoing assessments, consolidate their findings and messages to guide future policy debates at the national and international levels;
  • Identify critical environmental data, information, policy, management, research, methodology and capacity gaps and provide recommendations on filling these gaps;
  • Raise awareness of the general public of priority environmental issues, societal response to them and the complex and multidimensional relationships between society and the environment;
  • Design and implement the outreach and communication strategy and plans to ensure effective delivery of the assessment findings and messages to target audiences;
  • Catalyze action including additional research if needed.

Recommended methodology for the assessment

Based on the analysis of the environmental assessment landscape in Ukraine, available assessment expertise and capacities, environmental policy challenges in the post-war country and functions, goals and expectations of the emerging post-war environmental assessment, we suggest applying the Integrated Environment Assessment (IEA) methodology for implementing the upcoming assessment.

The main comparative advantage of the IEA is addressing environmental matters in a holistic way, considering economic, environmental and societal factors contributing to particular environmental challenges through a multi-stakeholder, participatory consultative process. A critical objective evaluation and analysis of response options, which emerge from the analysis of actual policy practices, adds more value as policy makers can select verified policy tools to achieve environmental goals and objectives within an agreed timeline.

Since the 1990s, when the IEA was first applied to the global assessments, the IEA methodology has constantly evolved over time moving from ad hoc assessment reports of environmental situation and cause-effect relationships between the environment and society towards regular assessment processes which provide updates on the changing environmental situation, the effectiveness of response actions and, finally, the possible pathways to a more sustainable future.

The IEA methodology has been successfully applied to developing the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) that has been the flagship publication of UNEP since the mid-1990s. Nowadays it is the most authoritative, comprehensive, regular review of the state and trends of the global environment which also provides an outlook for the future and policy options for humanity to address environmental challenges. While GEO was initially designed as a global tool, its underlying IEA approach has inspired a plethora of GEO-type assessments around the world. About 250 global, regional, national and sub-national reports have been published under the GEO brand name by now. Out of them about 100 national-level reports were produced between 1999 and 2020 employing the IEA methodology. Most of the country-level assessments significantly influenced national policy development processes. The inherent legitimacy and credibility of the IEA process and reports helped open many doors, especially for the developing countries, providing environmental actors with a solid foundation for advocacy before national governments, intergovernmental organizations and multilateral financial institutions. On the other hand, those bodies began considering the national IEA as a sign of their partners’ competence and commitment to modern environmental governance.

Therefore,  it is extremely important for Ukraine that the post-war environmental assessment is implemented through a multi-stakeholder, transparent, participatory consultative process which would, besides scientists and policy experts, involve representatives of major stakeholder groups, also securing disciplinary, geographical and gender balance among them. This is what a properly designed IEA process is built on. As some international partners and multilateral institutions (e.g. here and here) still believe that “the Ukrainian government’s vision is more central and top-down…” and “there is no robust strategic framework and a lack of clear hierarchy of planning documents in Ukraine…” undertaking the post-war environmental assessment using the IEA approach will send a strong signal to them that the vision has dramatically changed, help enhance trust to the Ukrainian partners and raise environmental priorities to the top of the envisioned post-war reconstruction agenda.

Concluding remarks

After reviewing the environmental assessment landscape in Ukraine and considering the feasibility of implementing an integrated post-war environmental assessment, we conclude that this assessment is feasible in Ukraine. It will be necessary in the future and thus is strongly recommended to support the national policy development process.

There are capabilities in the public sector, academia, civil society and the expert community at large to successfully implement a fully-fledged, robust, credible and legitimate post-war integrated environmental assessment.

The Government of Ukraine could establish a national-scale IEA process to guide the upcoming green recovery and reconstruction of the country, and international partners might wish to provide the support as needed.

Acknowledgements. The author is grateful to Prof. Ruben Mnatsakanian, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy of the Central European University, for advice and fruitful discussion. URLs contained in this paper were current at the time of writing. The research supporting this paper was sponsored by the Central European University Foundation of Budapest (CEUBPF). The theses explained herein represent the ideas of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CEUBPF. 

  • Volodymyr Demkine, External Research Fellow, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, 1100 Vienna, Austria


The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations