New York/Geneva/Nairobi -- Natural resources such as land, timber, water as well as extractive resources have played an important role in igniting and prolonging conflict - particularly in fragile states where management and oversight of such resources is often weak. In parallel, there is a growing recognition of the role of mediation for preventing and resolving natural resource conflicts.
In an effort to provide mediation professionals with good practices and strategies in this context, the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the UN Environment Programmed (UNEP) have jointly produced a landmark publication entitled: 'Natural Resources and Conflict: A Guide for Mediation Practitioners.'
Drawing on decades of experience in the field of mediation of natural resource conflicts, the Guide provides best practices and strategies for mediating different types of resource conflicts - whether those disagreements are violent, have the potential to turn violent, or are part of a larger political struggle, including within a peace process.
'Mediation is a vital tool in preventing and resolving conflicts,' says UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman. 'Yet for various reasons it is underutilized in the context of conflicts involving natural resources. This Guide helps bridge the gap. It intends to equip mediators and mediation practitioners with practical advice, tools and strategies they may need.'
'This is a timely analysis,' said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.' With climate change, rapid population growth, and environmental degradation placing new pressures on environmental and social systems, effectively preventing and resolving resource conflicts has never been more urgent. Mediation can be particularly effective in helping parties identify ways to maximize and share resource benefits.'
By focusing on a broad range of benefits tied to natural resources, including employment opportunities, revenue, services, access and infrastructure, mediators have been able to get past zero-sum positions to options that yield mutual gain.
Similarly, moving discussions away from political and ideological topics towards more technical aspects of resource disputes can be a powerful tactic to progress negotiations. Technical aspects may include resource quality, quantity, or consumption and demand trends - all factors that can be objectively assessed.
Helping to identify paths towards resolution through mediation and third-party involvement, the DPA-UNEP Guide can also be used by diverse stakeholders and natural resource management experts considering a mediated solution to a resource dispute, ranging from governments and companies to communities and nongovernmental organizations.