Natural resources and peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is one of the most important tasks of the United Nations. The UN Peacebuilding Commission was established in 2005 with the objective of helping conflict-affected countries consolidate peace, including by addressing the root causes of conflict and providing a foundation for sustainable development. Natural resources play a prominent role in both of these areas.

In order to support the Peacebuilding Commission in its task, UNEP collected and analysed field evidence on conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities from a range of sources, including UNEP 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” (2009).

This provided an important political justification for UNEP to continue its work in this area. In particular, UNEP helped establish a partnership between the UN and EU to develop guidance on preventing conflicts linked to land and natural resources through improved natural resource governance. UNEP 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 of its kind on natural resources and postconflict peacebuilding. Over a period of four years, a total of 150 original case studies from 67 conflict-affected countries around the world were developed, representing contributions from 225 experts. The case studies cover a range of natural resources, including land and water, high-value extractives such as oil, gas, minerals, metals and gems, as well as renewable resource sectors such as forestry, fisheries and agriculture.

In November 2012, the g7+ group of 20 conflict-affected states formally recognized addressing natural resources as a major factor in achieving stabilization and resilience. They noted the need to improve their own governance of natural resources and related revenues, but also highlighted the role played by the international community in combating illegal resource exploitation. Following this declaration, the secretariat of the g7+ requested that formal partnership with UNEP be established to develop a strategy and related tools on natural resource risks and opportunities in fragile states, in line with many of the recommendations of the 2009 policy report.

Another 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 that form the UN Development Group (UNDG) and the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA). The adoption of this document is an important milestone for the UN system in terms of highlighting risks and opportunities from natural resources in conflict prevention and peace consolidation. In 2013, UNEP also launched an international knowledge platform and community of practice on environmental peacebuilding. The knowledge platform is regularly accessed by users from 185 countries and supports a virtual Community of Practice with over 3,000 people from 90 countries that have signed up to a regular Environmental Peacebuilding Update.

Building on the recommendations of the report, UNEP, PBSO and other partners have also assessed and addressed key natural resource challenges at the country level on a pilot basis. The main activities have taken place in Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Afghanistan.

The work that the ECP programme has delivered on peacebuilding and natural resources has been vital in helping to create momentum for addressing key natural resource challenges within the political sphere and has generated in-country work on analysis and improved programming. Major programmes on natural resources and peace are now included within UNEP’s country programmes in both Sudan and Afghanistan. This initial 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, UNEP is focusing on the management of the Environmental Peacebuilding Knowledge Platform and community of practice, as well as developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

UN Environment Publications

Other Related Publications


TEDx Talk by Head of UNEP’s Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding Programme David Jensen on "Natural Resources and Peacebuilding: Is the United Nations united?"