United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Natural resource management critical to peacebuilding

Intrastate conflicts are likely to drag on and escalate without a greater focus on environment and natural resources in the peacebuilding process, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In addition, conflicts with a link to natural resources are twice as likely to relapse within the first five years, as shown by data collected by Uppsala University and the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

Even so, fewer that 25 per cent of peace agreements for resource-linked conflicts have addressed those linkages, leaving many post-conflict countries vulnerable to conflict relapse.

A stronger role for environment in post-conflict planning, along with greater capacity for early warning, are required to address environmental risks and capitalize on opportunities, the report says. This includes a more robust and comprehensive inclusion of environmental issues in UN peacebuilding activities, and a more careful harnessing of natural resources for economic recovery, essential services and sustainable livelihoods.

A timely input from UNEP as a fragile peace prevails in the Middle East and conflict rages on in Darfur and the Northern provinces of DR Congo, the paper analyses the links between environment, conflict and peacebuilding through fourteen case studies, including Afghanistan, Darfur, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The often devastating direct impacts of conflict on the environment have been established by UNEP through some 15 post-conflict environmental assessments, which have documented environmental damage from armed conflict around the world since 1999. But the indirect consequences of post-conflict coping mechanisms and the damage inflicted to the capacity of government institutions are also key problems.

Even after an initial cessation of violence, natural resources can contribute to conflict relapse in the post-conflict period, and help finance a continued insurgency. No less that 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources since 1990.

As the global population continues to rise, and demand for resources continues to grow, there is significant potential for conflicts over natural resources to intensify in the coming decades. In addition, new conflicts could be generated by the possible consequences of climate change for water availability and food security, for example.

UNEP's new report, however, suggests that there are also considerable opportunities for environment to contribute to peace consolidation rather than conflict.

Naming sustainable livelihoods, dialogue and confidence-building as potential keys to peacebuilding, the report also emphasizes the important role that carefully managed resources can play to jump-start economic activity in post-conflict countries. By providing a platform for cooperation, common environmental needs and resource-related goals can be a significant impetus for peace.

The report, which inaugurates a new policy series by UNEP, was co-authored by the Expert Advisory Group on Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding established by UNEP in 2008, which is composed of senior experts from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and think tanks that have demonstrated leadership in environment and conflict issues.

With continued support from the Government of Finland, a collection of 60 case studies on best practices of natural resource management for peacebuilding will be published by UNEP as a follow up to this report in 2010. In addition, UNEP is joining forces with the European Commission, the UN Development Programme, the UN Department of Political Affairs, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office and UN-Habitat to develop guidance and training to address resource-based conflicts at the field level.

The full report can be downloaded from:

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