Environmental Degredation Can Be a Pathway to Peace

From climate change to deforestation to water scarcity, environmental degradation can not only lead to conflict, but can also offer a pathway to peace, said experts at the World Conservation Congress on October 7, 2008.

An international panel sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented evidence that managing the environment and natural resources is key to improving security, resolving conflicts, and building a sustainable peace after war.

"UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that rapid environmental change is undercutting the fight against poverty and could jeopardize international peace and security," said UNEP's David Jensen. "Recognizing that rising scarcity of natural resources could trigger conflict, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner has called for the sound management of nature-based assets."

  • Jensen discussed lessons learned from UNEP's efforts to include environmental needs in Afghanistan's reconstruction, the subject of its report, Afghanistan's Environment 2008: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/afg_soe_E.pdf
  • Richard Matthew of University of California, Irvine, identified the main opportunities for environmental issues to help build peace: economic development, livelihoods, and cooperation.
  • Anne Hammill of the International Institute for Sustainable Development cautioned that without careful planning, protected areas and conservation efforts could contribute to conflict and undermine peace processes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"This panel puts to rest the stereotype that conservation is just about rich people hugging trees," said chair Geoff Dabelko, director of the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program. "Instead, we have shown how natural resources are critical to rebuilding livelihoods and peace in post-conflict settings."

UNEP's Disasters and Conflicts Programme conducts field-based environmental assessments in crisis-affected countries to identify environmental risks to human health, livelihoods, and security, with the aim of integrating environmental needs and risk reduction measures into recovery and reconstruction plans. http://postconflict.unep.ch

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the living, national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds, engaged in the study of national and world affairs.

Since 1994, the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program has explored the connections among environmental challenges and their links to conflict and security.

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