3 ways conservation efforts can promote peace

From greenhouse gas-induced climate change to the rapid depletion of fisheries to dwindling freshwater supplies, the natural environment is increasingly linked to global conflict and insecurity.

Illegally mined minerals and timber stripped from Africa’s forests have financed some of the continent’s most brutal wars. Similarly, the illegal ivory trade has been linked to terrorist groups that pose a global threat.

In South Asia — home to three of the most densely populated river basins — competition for water is increasing at an alarming rate, presenting a major security challenge to the region.

And as we’ve learned in the Middle East and North Africa, drought and decreased agricultural productivity in one part of the world can fuel political instability in another.

We at CI have seen the links between conflict and the environment for ourselves. While these connections are many and complex, we are demonstrating that just as deteriorating environmental conditions can bring about or exacerbate conflict, abundant natural resources and healthy ecosystems can equally serve as the bedrock for healthy, prosperous and peaceful societies.

Since our founding in 1987, CI has contributed to what we call “environmental peacebuilding” in diverse ways. We helped establish a peace park on the border of Peru and Ecuador; fostered transparent, participatory community dialogues about natural resource use in sub-Saharan Africa; and promoted national policies and reforms in Asia to reduce conflict.

Through CI’s Policy Center for Environment and Peace, CI promotes successful approaches to conflict prevention and mitigation in the world’s areas of high biodiversity. Over the next few months, we will publish five case studies that highlight our experiences in Bolivia, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador and Timor-Leste. These examples show promising ways communities, nongovernmental organizations and local government authorities have fostered open and honest civil participation and collaborative decision-making over natural resources in critical ecosystems.

Here are three things we’ve learned from these studies:

1.     Implementing a rights-based approach to conservation can prevent, and in some cases resolve, conflict.

In Liberia’s East Nimba Nature Reserve, conflict emerged between local forest users and management authorities after the reserve was established without engaging communities. To resolve this dispute around access and rights to forest resources, CI led a multi-stakeholder process incorporating extensive community consultation and adherence to the principles behind Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). FPIC respects the collective right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their consent to projects that will affect their lands and natural resources. As a result of these efforts, both parties reached an agreement reconciling conservation objectives and human development needs.

2.     Incorporating gender issues into conflict resolution is an important part of the peacebuilding process.

In Timor-Leste, CI is working with three conflict-affected communities in Nino Konis Santana National Park to establish a co-management model for the park’s abundant natural resources. Recognizing that traditional natural resource management practices in Timor-Leste often exclude women from the decision-making process, we are incorporating the use of several tools to support communities in making decisions that are more inclusive of women’s voices and perspectives.

3.     Using technology that promotes social involvement can be a powerful combination for peacebuilding.

In Bolivia’s Carrasco National Park, a longstanding conflict between protected area management and local populations was resolved when both parties agreed to a formal “red line” boundary between the protected area and land for use by the local communities. Points to mark the agreed upon boundary were determined with handheld GPS devices to ensure consensus; the path was then cleared and marked with red paint by community members themselves.

These examples demonstrate CI’s rights-based approach to conservation and reaffirm our commitment to lasting peace. We are just at the beginning of a collaborative learning process on environmental peacebuilding. But thanks to our dedicated staff and partners working to overcome challenges in some of the world’s toughest conditions, we are moving closer every day to achieving our vision for healthy, sustainable, peaceful societies.

Brittany Ajroud is an associate in the Policy Center for Environment and Peace. For more information about CI’s environmental peacebuilding work, please contact Janet Edmond at jedmond@conservation.org.