Environmental cooperation for peacebuilding

While natural resources are key to achieving sustainable development, they are also increasingly acting as drivers of fragility, conflict and violence.

As the global population continues to rise, the global demand for resources continues to grow, and the impacts of climate change begin to materialize, competition over natural resources is set to intensify.

In the aftermath of violent conflict, natural resources such as land, timber, minerals, oil, and gas are often the primary assets that governments can access. How they use these assets can fundamentally alter the course of peacebuilding. The challenge lies in encouraging the responsible, equitable and sustainable use of those resources the revenues they generate.

Against this background, UN Environment’s Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme supports efforts to consolidate peace by providing expertise on the conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities associated with natural resources and the environment. For more information, download our Summary of Progress, or read through our major areas of work below.

Environmental diplomacy and mediation

We offer technical expertise to help transform local and transboundary conflicts over natural resources and the environment into opportunities for confidence building, cooperation, and joint benefit. Upon request, we can act as an impartial expert and trusted third party in the mediation of resource conflicts by drawing on our neutrality, technical orientation, and expertise in environmental cooperation.

Our expertise is also available to international mediation processes in which technical know-how on natural resources can play a constructive role and complement the mediation team’s competencies. This service can be related to disputed natural resources or using shared natural resources as a platform for cooperation and confidence building between the parties. For more information, download our report, Natural Resources and Conflict: A Guide for Mediation Practitioners.

International law, environment and conflict

A silent victim of violent conflict, the environment is often directly damaged by hostilities through the use of specific weapons, the targeting of industrial sites and infrastructure, or the use of “scorched earth” tactics and reliance on conflict resources. In addition, indirect impacts of conflict can cause significant environmental damage.

In 2009, UN Environment published a flagship policy report: Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict – An Inventory and Analysis of International Law. In response to the recommendations of this report, the International Law Commission (ILC) formally adopted the topic into its long-term programme and appointed Marie G. Jacobsson of Sweden as Special Rapporteur on the topic. The report also provided clear recommendations to the International Committee of the Red Cross to update the Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict. A revised version of the guidelines is expected to be published in 2017.

As part of this work, we also host events and support the UN Secretary-General in commemoration of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, which takes place each year on 6 November.

Natural resources and peacebuilding

UN Environment has collected and analysed field evidence on conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities from a range of sources, including UN Environment field assessments and 14 case studies. The work was synthesized in the flagship policy report From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Following on from this report, we helped establish a partnership with the European Union to develop guidance on preventing conflicts linked to land and natural resources through improved natural resource governance. We also formed a partnership with the Environmental Law Institute, the Universities of Tokyo and McGill, and a range of other partners and institutes to establish the largest global research programme on natural resources and post-conflict peacebuilding.

A major milestone was achieved in 2013, when the UN-wide guidance note on Natural Resource Management in Transition Settings was endorsed by 38 UN agencies, funds and programmes. Also in 2013, UN Environment launched an international knowledge platform and community of practice on environmental peacebuilding. The platform is regularly accessed by users from 185 countries and supports a virtual Community of Practice with over 3,000 people from 90 countries.

Major programmes on natural resources and peace are now included within UN Environment’s country programmes in both Sudan and Afghanistan. This foundation can now be deepened and scaled up by the relevant parts of the UN system in support of Member State requests and their specific needs for technical assistance.

Going forward, we are focusing on the Environmental Peacebuilding Knowledge Platform and community of practice, as well as developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).