Bringing Natural Resources to the Table: ELI, UNEP Launch New Environmental Peacebuilding PlatformNovember 25, 2013 By Tim Kovach
To date, despite their demonstrated importance in both conflict recovery and the risk of conflict recurrence, natural resources have been largely ignored or downplayed in post-conflict settings around the world.
This failure has condemned many peace efforts. For example, during Sierra Leone’s civil war, peacemakers missed the role that alluvial diamonds played, ultimately dooming the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord. The agreement placed Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebel Revolutionary United Front, in charge of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction, and Development. Unsurprisingly, rather than separating the rebels from their diamond revenue streams, Sankoh used his position to loot more diamond reserves and finance renewed conflict just a year later.
This month, in recognition of that disconnect and in commemoration of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), UN Environment Program (UNEP), and other partner organizations formally launched EnvironmentalPeacebuilding.org with the goal of making information about the role natural resources often play in peacebuilding and conflict more accessible.
ELI and UNEP hope the platform will serve as a clearing house for case studies; quantitative and qualitative analyses; reference and training materials; and educational videos, and be an important tool for researchers and practitioners to share information and experiences on the linkages between natural resources, conflict, and peace.
Currently, the site is home to a variety of publications and policy briefs, including UNEP’s Post-Conflict Environmental Assessments; toolkits on post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management from other organizations, including UNDP, the UN Development Group, the World Bank, and the European Union; a growing collection of relevant shorter briefs and research from a variety of sources; and the first of six volumes on specific aspects of post-conflict peacebuilding, edited by the initiative’s partner organizations. Each volume will be available to download for free six months after its publication date, with the first focusing on high-value natural resources, like Sierra Leone’s diamonds.
While the Environmental Peacebuilding platform already constitutes one of the most comprehensive online resources for research in the field, ELI and UNEP envision EnvironmentalPeacebuilding.org as the start of additional conversations and collaboration.
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In the coming months, they plan to leverage existing materials on the platform to post additional materials and spark future research and action. Partner organizations are discussing additional ways to utilize the site and enhance both the quantity and quality of work in the field. For example, the initiative helped organize the inaugural Al Moumin Seminar on Environmental Peacebuilding in March, delivered by UCLA Political Science Professor Michael L. Ross. The seminar, named after Iraq’s first Minister of the Environment, Mishkat Al Moumin, is an annual event honoring a researcher working on environmental peacebuilding. Site partners also recently launched an environmental peacebuilding listserv (people who are interested can request to join here).
The books and other publications hosted on the site to date are just the first phase of the Environmental Peacebuilding Initiative. They constitute a broad collection of what we know and have learned in the field. The next step is to take this information and apply it on the ground – in humanitarian interventions, development programs, and peacebuilding initiatives – in order to make it useful and beneficial in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
The knowledge housed on EnvironmentalPeacebuilding.org will be valuable for training practitioners at donor organizations, international organizations, and NGOs who are working in post-conflict states. Both ELI and UNEP believe that by making this knowledge more readily available to both scholars and practitioners, we can begin to shield against the risks associated with improperly managing natural resources after hostilities end.
Longer Conflicts, Shorter Peace
An array of research suggests that natural resources can increase the risk of conflict outbreak, make conflicts more intractable, and increase the risk that civil conflicts will recur. Rustad and Binningsbø, for instance, have found that civil conflicts predicated on natural resources are more likely to relapse within five years and relapse about twice as quickly as other conflicts. This effect is particularly significant for conflicts involving the distribution of natural resources, as it frequently overlaps with widespread inequality and ethnic fragmentation.
My own research supports their findings. Analyzing all civil conflicts in the Uppsala conflict dataset which concluded between 1946 and 2001, I found that natural resource conflicts were roughly 2.5 times more likely to recur within 10 years and approximately 1.9 times more likely to recur within 5 years (though the latter statistic was only marginally significant).
Moreover, UNEP found in 2009 that, although natural resources played a role in roughly 40 percent of all civil conflicts since 1960, new natural resource management schemes have been included in just one-quarter of peace agreements.
The evidence clearly indicates that if we hope to end violent conflict around the world, the environment must be a part of the process. As UNEP noted in its landmark report, From Conflict to Peacebuilding, “integrating environmental management and natural resources into peacebuilding…is no longer an option – it is a security imperative.”
Cognizant of the outcome of the Lomé Accord so many years ago, Jatou Jallow, head of Sierra Leone’s Environmental Protection Agency, is welcoming the new Environmental Peacebuilding platform.
“Managing our minerals and other natural resources must be done in ways that generate revenues, equitably distribute wealth, alleviate poverty and mitigate environmental and social impacts,” she told ELI. “Having access to the resources and knowledge on this website will greatly help us along that path.”
Tim Kovach is a recent graduate of the Global Environmental Policy Masters Program at the American University School of International Service. He has researched environmental peace and conflict for the Environmental Law Institute and the British government.
Sources: Global Witness, Institute for Economics and Peace, International Social Science Journal, Journal of Peace Research, Kovach (2013), Uppsala Conflict Data Program, UN Environment Program, Yearbook of International Environmental Law.
Photo Credit: Abandoned tank in Sierra Leone, courtesy of flickr user Eduardo Fonseca Arraes.