“Where environment and natural resource factors generate conflict, post-conflict peacebuilding efforts must tackle them directly in order to achieve durable peace. At the same time, the recognition that environmental and natural resources can contribute to violent conflict only underscores their potential significance as a pathway for cooperation and confidence-building in war-torn societies.” United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) (2009)
Whether a war-torn society can maintain peace after a conflict ceases depends on a broad range of factors, including the conditions that led to the onset of war, the characteristics of the conflict itself, the nature of the peace settlement, and the influence of external forces (i.e. global economic or political pressures). The previous sections have shown that natural resources can be an important contributing factor in the outbreak of conflict, in financing and sustaining conflict, and in spoiling peacemaking prospects. Increasing demand for resources, population growth and environmental stresses including climate change, will likely compound these problems. At the same time, conflicts cause seriousenvironmental impacts, which need to be addressed to protect health and livelihoods.
In peacebuilding, it is therefore critical that the environmental drivers and impacts of conflict are managed, that tensions are defused, and that natural assets are used sustainably to support stability and development in the longer term. Indeed, there can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystem services are damaged, degraded or destroyed. As mentioned above, conflicts associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years. Despite this, fewer than a quarter of peace negotiations aiming to resolve conflicts linked to natural resources have addressed resource management mechanisms.61
Furthermore, the UN has not effectively integrated environment and natural resource considerations into its peacebuilding interventions. Priorities typically lie in meeting humanitarian needs, demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, supporting elections, restoring order and the rule of law, and opening the economy to foreign investment. The environment and natural resources are often framed as issues to be addressed at a later stage.
This is a mistaken approach, which fails to take into account the changing nature of the threats to national and international security. Rather, integrating these issues into peacebuilding should be considered a security imperative, as deferred action or poor choices made early on often establish unsustainable trajectories of recovery that may undermine long-term peace and stability.
To ensure that environmental and natural resource issues are successfully integrated across the range of peacebuilding activities (see figure 2), it is critical that they are not treated in isolation, but instead form an integral part of the analyses and assessments that guide peacebuilding interventions. Indeed, it is only through a cross-cutting approach that these issues can be tackled effectively as part of peacebuilding measures to address the factors that may trigger a relapse of violence or impede the peace consolidation process.
The following section provides three compelling reasons and supporting case studies to demonstrate how environment and natural resources can concretely contribute to peacebuilding:
1. Supporting economic recovery:
With the crucial provision that they are properly governed and carefully managed – “high-value” resources (such as hydrocarbons, minerals, metals, stones and export timber) hold out the prospect of positive economic development, employment and budget revenue. The risk, however, is that the pressure to kick-start development and earn foreign exchange can lead to rapid uncontrolled exploitation of such resources at sub-optimal prices, without due attention to environmental sustainability and the equitable distribution of revenues. When the benefits are not shared, or when environmental degradation occurs as a consequence of exploitation, there is serious potential for conflict to resume.
2. Developing sustainable livelihoods:
Durable peace fundamentally hinges on the development of sustainable livelihoods, the provision of basic services, and on the recovery and sound management of the natural resource base. Environmental damage caused by conflicts, coping strategies, and chronic environmental problems that undermine livelihoods must therefore be addressed from the outset. Minimizing vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change through the management of key natural resources and the introduction of appropriate technologies should also be addressed.
3. Contributing to dialogue, cooperation and confidencebuilding:
The environment can be an effective platform or catalyst for enhancing dialogue, building confidence, exploiting shared interests and broadening cooperation between divided groups as well as within and between states.