In seeking ways to connect conservation with peacemaking, the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security
(IEDS) has released a study that examines an expanded role for the international wetlands treaty, the Ramsar Convention
The Ramsar Convention: A New Window for Environmental Diplomacy? describes the wetlands convention, its place within the international environmental treaty world, and its potential to enhance environmental security during this dynamic time of increasingly insecure water supplies and climate change. With more than 40 years of work, the treaty has been quietly and effectively conserving wetlands and increasing recognition of the need to build international cooperation around them. The treaty has also helped define wetlands within greater biogeographic regions and led to formal identification of transboundary wetlands.
In the article, we set out to combine information from the convention’s 234 listed wetlands (13 of which have formal transboundary plans) with the Global Peace Index, which ranks countries using 23 indicators, such as number of conflicts, conflict deaths, military expenditures, and relations with neighboring countries. The result is a prioritized list of countries most in need of tools of conflict resolution.
Working within the framework of the convention builds capacity between high-conflict-risk nations and has potential to develop otherwise-difficult-to-establish trust because the process is transparent and all stakeholder voices are heard. This can be important even when the existing conflict has nothing to do with international wetlands.
The convention is active in many countries with ongoing conflicts, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, and efforts there may help inform the ongoing debate as to the efficacy of conservation as a tool for peacemaking.
As environmental conditions continue to evolve rapidly, the need for institutions that can work in the transboundary environment will increase. The established international infrastructure of the convention has the potential to be a greater force in peacemaking. Further research may help focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and reveal ways for more effective peacemaking efforts.
Suggestions for ways to enhance the convention’s role in environmental diplomacy include working more closely with researchers and practitioners directly involved in the environmental peacemaking field, increased focus on developing capacity for increased flexibility to react to dynamic conditions, and more active promotion of formal transboundary agreements.
Pamela Griffin is an independent scholar at IEDS where she focuses on the diplomatic potential of transboundary wetlands.