High Expectations for Ukraine Recovery Conference 2024: WWF Calls for a Green and Inclusive Recovery


As world leaders gather in Berlin for the Ukraine Recovery Conference 2024 (URC24), WWF calls for an urgent and decisive shift towards a green, inclusive, transparent recovery of Ukraine. The conference, which seeks to mobilize international support for Ukraine's reconstruction, presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize environmental sustainability and public participation amidst ongoing recovery efforts.

The environmental impact of the war in Ukraine has been catastrophic. This is why Ukraine’s restoration is not only about recovering from the immense human suffering and destruction of infrastructure, but also from the damage done to the natural environment. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, since the beginning of the war, at least 900 protected areas together covering 1.2 million hectares or 30% of all protected areas in Ukraine have been affected by shelling, bombing, oil pollution, and military maneuvers. A recent report by the Conflict and Environment Observatory, Zoï Environment Network, and OSCE highlights extensive damage across multiple ecosystems. Fires have devastated an area equivalent to one million football pitches, with 12% occurring in Emerald Network protected areas. Recovery to pre-war conditions is projected to take 60-80 years. 

In order to mitigate this devastation of the natural environment, but also to enable leapfrogging into a more sustainable future, WWF emphasizes the need for a comprehensive integration of environmental sustainability into Ukraine’s recovery plans. This approach needs “all hands on deck” with the green civil society having a lot to contribute. Past conferences have overlooked these aspects, but URC24 offers a platform to change this narrative.

“While climate and nature might not seem a major priority during wartime, incorporating these into the planning process from the start will help Ukraine along its pathway to a future-proof recovery and compliance with international obligations.” said Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director of WWF-CEE. She added: “In contrast, damage compensation and upgrading built infrastructure to environmental standards at a later stage will be much more costly, much less effective, and delay the EU accession process”.

The Joint Statement that WWF and 30 other green CSOs have signed as input to URC24 outlines contributions civil society can make to fostering a green recovery. Valeriia Kolomiiets, WWF-Ukraine´s Regenerate Ukraine Initiative Director explains: “Green civil society organisations are more than ready to share their know-how on biodiversity conservation, transition to renewable energy and a circular economy, to provide unbiased views, or mobilize engagement from citizens. However, in order to play our vital role, we call on governments to engage us in decision-making processes.” 

The Joint Statement underscores some steps that governments need to take in the near future with CSO support. This relates for example to the development of guidelines for the Do No Significant Harm principle of the EU. It is enshrined in the 50 billion aid package of the EU for Ukraine, the “Ukraine Facility,” and aims to ensure that public money is not flowing into projects that do damage to the environment. Guidance is needed for the application of this principle in Ukraine under the current circumstances. Without it, the principle will remain an empty shell. 

Another aspect highlighted in the Annex to the green CSO Statement is the importance of transparency and countering corruption, especially in the field of natural resource use. “WWF cooperates with anti-corruption NGOs, experts and state law enforcement and specialized agencies such as the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine or National Agency on Corruption Prevention to combat corruption in forest management ”said Valeriia Kolomiiets. “After all, unsustainable and intransparent governance in forestry is a key threat to Ukraine´s precious forests and all the services they provide to us people, from water replenishment, carbon sequestration, erosion control and of course wood”.

Additional information

The conference: URC24 aims to bolster international aid for Ukraine's recovery, focusing on emergency assistance, rapid recovery projects, and fostering conditions that attract private sector investments. The conference will address four thematic dimensions: business, human capital, regional recovery, and EU accession, with climate protection and green recovery as cross-cutting issues.

WWF report: WWF’s report, Ukraine: A Sustainable Economic Recovery for People and Nature, developed with the Boston Consulting Group, serves as a vital reference for policymakers. The report outlines strategies for a green recovery, in line with the Lugano principles established in 2022. It highlights that modernizing Ukraine’s economy and infrastructure in a way that works with nature rather than against it would generate many benefits, including enhanced security with less dependence on imports of fossil fuels and accelerated economic development and job creation. Such reconstruction can accelerate Ukraine’s integration in the EU and alignment with key policies such as the European Green Deal, to which Ukraine has already committed.

WWF´s work on forests: WWF has been promoting sustainable forest management, including restoration and conservation of its biodiversity-rich old-growth forests (OGF), for many years. 

16% of Ukraine’s total land area is forest, compared to 43.5% for the EU. Half of these forests can be categorized as (semi-)natural, many of them of high biodiversity value, in particular those classified as OGF, which show no or only minor traces of human use.

Critical to mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, these forests are affected by well-recognized issues such as intensive commercial exploitation in the context of weak regulation enforcement, which generates pressure on local biodiversity and ecosystems. These issues are likely to grow during and after the war due to damages and fires caused by fightings, as well as risks of increased illegal logging and more permissive legal logging.

Ukraine's natural forests are under triple pressure: 
1) Russia's military aggression (destruction and mining of forests, use of wood for the construction of fortifications); 
2) the need for timber during the reconstruction of Ukraine; 
3) vested interests and rent-seeking groups in Ukraine. 

Each of these issues is serious on its own. However, when combined, they can pose a deadly threat to forests, with direct impacts on both Ukraine and Europe as a whole. Forests need additional attention from international partners, as they are key to Ukraine's economic prosperity in both the short and long term, as well as to human security and a healthy environment.

WWF sees a big potential for restoring logged or afforestation activities to ensure the resilience of new forests to climate change and their services to people, such as replenishment of drinking water or erosion control. In order to show governmental and private actors where restoration is needed and how good restoration should look like, WWF is working with the company SoftServe Ukraine to set up the Digital Platform for Ukrainian Forest Restoration. In order to promote direct action, Softserve, the local forest enterprise, and WWF recently planted 3000 tree saplings.

WWF is currently working with special government agencies on a number of draft laws (e.g. draft law #9516) and government resolutions (e.g. Resolution #454 ‘Some issues of forest management during the period of martial law and amendments to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Resolution #724 of 12 May 2007’ on forest management in times of war) to minimise corruption risk during its implementation. The fight against corruption is accompanied by WWF´s advocacy for implementation of policies and standards for sustainable and transparent forest management in Ukraine (development of recommendations for legislative changes in the context of the entry into force of the EUDR).