Speaking at the Wilson Center earlier this week, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Director Achim Steiner said he recently discussed plans with Alain Le Roy, UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, to integrate environmental awareness into UN peacebuilding efforts. According to a study recently released by UNEP, From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (see New Security Beat post), at least 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources since 1990, but fewer than 25 percent of peace agreements for resource-related conflicts address natural resources. Steiner said he is hopeful that putting in “green advisers, so to speak, with blue helmets” could change that.
As someone who has followed the history of environmental security efforts for a long time, trust me—this is news. It’s not that Steiner’s idea of integrating environmental expertise into peacekeeping is novel; on the contrary, a “Green Helmets” force to respond to environmental conflicts was proposed unsuccessfully by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989-89 and by then-UNEP Director Klaus Toepfer in 1998. Both of these proposals failed because many countries feared a dilution of the principle of sovereign control over their territory and natural resources. But Steiner’s less-ambitious, more-practical plan to provide environmental advisers to peacekeeping troops seems to hold promise for reducing the environmental impact of conflicts and choking the supply chain of illegal resources fueling them. We may see this new integrated peacebuilding approach in action in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti.
Stay tuned for the archived video and transcript of Steiner’s talk, which also featured Daniel Reifsnyder of the U.S. Department of State and Andrew Morton of UNEP.
Photo: UNEP Director Achim Steiner. Courtesy of the Wilson Center and Dave Hawxhurst.