Highlight 6/2023 – An environment of peace is possible: Ensuring peaceful ecosystem restoration in a new era
Jean Carlo Manrique Vera, Buba Gedo Boke, and Xinyu Fan, 31 January 2023
In Central America, climate change is affecting agriculture, which is one of the main means of subsistence for impoverished families, thereby increasing the number of waves of migrants heading to the United States of America due to poverty and violence in the region. This is one example of how climate change threatens to exacerbate existing conflicts and create new ones. Many of the countries expected to be worst impacted by climate change are also affected by violence and conflict. The impact of climate change on these societies is likely to place a strain on social and political systems in these already fragile states. In this context, governance needs to adapt to ensure peaceful ecosystem restoration.
If direct access to limited natural resources such as land, forest, water, and wildlife is dominated by one specific individual or group, it can lead to outbreaks of violent conflict. In this way, the marginalization or exclusion of certain groups from these resources ensures that they then become easy targets for political manipulation.
Similarly, easily exploited natural resources may also change the dynamics of conflict and turn a politically motivated activity into an economic one, for high-value extractive resources can sustain a conflict through military financing. Hence, individuals or groups which benefit from conditions of conflict through their control of revenues and resource exploitation may work to undermine prospects of peace.
But while competition over the environment and natural resources can generate conflicts, successful peacebuilding initiatives recognize these challenges and help communities construct systems for better management of both resources and related conflicts. Properly managed high-value natural resources such as land and water can also act as assets for economic recovery, whereby development and employment opportunities become integrated into a participatory and inclusive approach to peacebuilding.
Armed conflicts leave behind a toxic footprint, as certain military materials and practices have the potential to cause environmental damage, with the potential to affect civilian health and interfere with post-conflict recovery. Until now, little attention has been focused on toxic materials released during military activities – in the form of certain chemical constituents of munitions, or indirectly as a result of the bombardment of industrial and civilian infrastructure – that form a hazard to humans and ecosystems.
Climate change and other environmental problems are increasingly important factors in building peace. Peacebuilding goals and mediation efforts cannot succeed or be sustained unless we address the broader environmental issues related to security. Local peacebuilding practitioners and civil society organizations face the daily reality of climate-related security challenges.
However, as environmental integrity and peace are inextricably linked, there is sometimes an unintended negative impact on peace and security when implementing solutions to environmental issues. Consequently, it is important to ensure that measures aimed at solving one problem do not make the other worse, trying to create positive synergies between measures to tackle both crises.
In this respect, the Environment of Peace report offers 6 recommendations to adapt international governance to this new era, thereby ensuring peaceful ecosystem restoration. Firstly, it is important to address the linked crises with joint solutions. Secondly, more investment is needed to enhance resilience and preparedness to detect and defuse growing tensions. Thirdly, funding must be directed to peace, not to conflict. Fourthly, the possible negative impacts of environmental measures in conflict should be assessed before implementation. Fifthly, measures should be inclusive, including marginalized groups in decision-making, as well as sharing the benefits. Finally, the risks should be understood and communicated, focusing on education, information and research.
Yet the competition between the United States of America and China demands measures to tackle climate change that could increase tensions between both countries. Climate change is a transnational issue that affects all countries, thereby needing a global response. However, in this twenty-first-century version of great power competition, global cooperation is not always possible as countries tend to be attracted to spheres of influence. Consequently, shaming could be used to ensure a response from the other world leader. For instance, the United States of America can pressure China to do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by highlighting its recent domestic accomplishments on climate change, particularly the adoption of the Inflation Reduction Act. Despite increasing tensions, this could be a solution to the gridlock in international cooperation, as world leaders do not wish to become climate villains before the world tribunal.
Although the context of competition for hegemony needs innovative measures to ensure cooperation regarding climate change, the Environment of Peace is possible, provided international governance is adapted to meet challenges in a world in which climate change and conflict coexist. The main actors in the international arena should consider not only ensuring peaceful ecosystem restoration linked to environmental change, but also to risks and opportunities for peace that arise from the transition to a greener, more sustainable future.
Jean Manrique, Buba Gedo Boke, and Xinyu Fan, Highlight 6/2023 – An environment of peace is possible: Ensuring peaceful ecosystem restoration in a new era, 31 January 2023, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.