Building Peace Through Environmental Conservation
In recent decades debates about the relationship between the environment and peace have focused on how environmental problems like resource scarcity and climate change are likely to create or exacerbate conflict. The emerging discussion that links rising temperatures caused by climate change to increased incidences of conflict illustrates this tendency.
The alternative theory of ecological diplomacy, on the other hand, focuses on facilitating peace through environment initiatives. Though one might argue that diplomatic mechanisms like the international climate change negotiation process, illustrated at last year’s COP15 meeting, have not accomplished anything more than the promotion of good will between countries.
The Transboundary Protected Areas Network of the World Conservation Union defines peace parks as “transboundary protected areas that are formally dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, and to the promotion of peace and cooperation”.
Once conflicting parties realize that a deteriorating ecology is a detriment to all sides they are more likely to co-operate.
What we are trying to do is to frame environmental degradation as a common aversion mechanism for parties, which can in turn lead to cooperation. Once conflicting parties realize that a deteriorating ecology is a detriment to all sides they are more likely to co-operate.
The elegance of this argument is that we can also use the tools of ecological diplomacy to address conflicts, including those that have nothing to do with the environment.
Typically, issues around territorial sovereignty can be difficult to negotiate and provide major stumbling blocks in conflicts. SPA cites peace parks as providing a space where shared sovereignty of the environment, because it is based on science and can be de-politicised, can set the scene for other forms of cooperation in trickier areas such as competition for economic resources.
Webelieves firmly that environmental scientists and educators do have a positive role to play in conflict resolution. Yet, many in the peacebuilding community, which some refer to disparagingly as the “peace racket”, are still sceptical about the contribution that environmental scientists can make to peace.
Challenges Presented by Natural Resources and Conflict
Most armed conflicts occur in developing countries where people depend substantially on natural resources for subsistence farming and livelihoods. Natural resources are often intertwined with the conflict narrative, with grievances over natural resources and their revenues contributing to the onset of conflict, revenues from natural resources financing conflict, and combatants targeting natural resources and the environment. And peace following resource-related conflicts is fragile: countries with past resource-related conflicts are more likely to relapse, and to do so twice as quickly.
Natural resources are one of a country’s most critical assets for peacebuilding. Land, forests, minerals, oil, water, and other resources are the foundations for rebuilding livelihoods and national economies. They provide jobs for reintegrating former combatants. And efforts to address corruption and improve governance often focus on natural resources and their revenues. Environmental peacebuilding incorporates natural resource management into peacebuilding activities and strategies to support security, humanitarian, and development objectives.
Catalyzing Research and Action
From 2008 to present, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the University of Tokyo, and McGill University have led a five-year global research initiative to analyze experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management, identify lessons, and raise awareness of those lessons among practitioners, researchers, and decision makers. The initiative is producing six edited books (published by Earthscan) that include over 150 case studies and other analyses from more than 60 conflict-affected countries and territories, written by 225 researchers, practitioners, and decision makers from around the world. A seventh overarching book (published by Cambridge University Press) synthesizes the findings across resources, peacebuilding activities, and countries. Building on this unprecedented body of research, we are converting learning into action, while we continue to examine approaches to more effectively manage resources to support peacebuilding.
Environmental peacebuilding integrates natural resource management in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict. Join our growing global community of researchers, practitioners, and decision makers in sharing experiences and lessons from managing natural resources in conflict-affected settings, accessing new research on the topic, and participating in events to support the growing network of professionals active in environmental peacebuilding.
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