Syria President Bashar al Assad's 'extensive' environmental devastation means he should not be invited to COP28 climate summit, report says

Syrian President Bashar al Assad should not be invited to this year's COP28 climate talks because of the environmental destruction he and his regime have caused, a report has said.

Mr Assad is responsible for "extensive devastation and damage caused to the environment" through his regime's attacks, bombing campaigns and chemical weapons use during his country's years-long civil war, according to the report by former International Criminal Court judge Sir Howard Morrison KC.

The Syrian president was invited to the Dubai summit in May after he was readmitted to the Arab League. It would be his first public appearance at a global conference since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Sir Howard said Mr Assad's invitation was "inappropriate" because he and his government are responsible for "an obvious and ongoing environmental disaster, and humanitarian disaster, in Syria".

He told Sky News humanitarian rights violations in Syria are well-documented, but "because of the way the country has been systematically devastated, we have also got to consider the huge environmental impact as a result of the devastation of the cities, the creation of waste and the deliberate attacks on the oil facilities".

The report, which was prepared at the request of a group of Syrians living in exile, will be presented in parliament on Wednesday.

According to the report the destruction of cities has led to the large-scale accumulation of "conflict rubble", which can contain hazardous materials which pose environmental risks.

It also notes attacks on the oil industry have caused oil fires and oil spills which have "destroyed large areas of cultivated and grazing land and killed livestock".

The oil fires and spills have had a "grave effect" on the health of Syrians, including an increased number of respiratory and skin diseases and women reporting "having repeated miscarriages following an oil spill".

Water has been used as a "weapon of war" in Syria, the report says, with the lack of access to safe and clean water for Syrians leading to myriad health problems, while damage to water sanitation systems has contaminated groundwater.

Meanwhile the daily production of waste is estimated to have doubled to around 850 tons per day, with excess waste "simply being left in the streets" or set on fire, "releasing dangerous fumes and toxins".

Syria's forest cover has been reduced at an "alarming" rate during the war, because of the need for charcoal and firewood and as a result of fighting, and the report warns this is leading to severe environmental issues including increased risk of flooding and a reduction in biodiversity.

Conference should address environmental violations committed in Syria

The report calls on states to push for Mr Assad's COP28 invite to be rescinded and to ensure the conference addresses the "widespread environmental violations" committed by the Syrian president and his forces.

'Outrageous and frankly avoidable environmental damage'

Describing the "improbability" of Mr Assad's invite to COP28, Sir Howard said: "We all know any major conflict these days is going to produce a lot of destruction and death, regardless of the political or moral rights and wrongs of the conflict.

"But the truth of the matter is, in Syria, it's been a prolonged and deliberate attack on cities and facilities where the environmental impact far outweighs, in the judgement of a lot of people, the military necessity."

He said there was an "incongruity" in "having someone at an environmental conference who is responsible for such outrageous and frankly avoidable environmental damage".