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Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding

Many countries face significant development challenges relating to the unsustainable use and allocation of natural resources, environmental degradation and climate change. Since 1990, at least eighteen violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources. In fact, recent research suggests that over the last sixty years at least forty percent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources. Civil wars such as those in Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo have centered on “high-value” resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil. Other conflicts, including those in Darfur and the Middle East, have involved control of scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Although environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict, the exploitation of natural resources and related environmental stresses can become significant drivers of violence and instability. These findings, and others, were published in UNEP’s 2009 policy paper ‘From Conflict to Peacebuilding: the Role of Natural Resources and the Environment.’

The overall aim of the Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme is to assist countries, regional organizations and the UN system to assess and transform potential sources of conflict over natural resources into an opportunity for cooperation and a platform for peacebuilding. Upon request from member states and UN country teams, the programme identifies areas that may be vulnerable to conflicts over natural resources and offers targeted training, technical advice, neutral facilitation, and impartial analysis aiming to identify cooperative solutions and mechanisms for coordinated management. To achieve this goal, the programme consists of four pillars based on the main communities of practice across the UN system:

Peacebuilding: Integrating natural resource management and environmental governance within peacebuilding plans and strategies, including emergency employment opportunities;

Peacekeeping: Promoting the use of the best technologies for energy, water and waste in peacekeeping operations; providing technical assistant to monitor illegal resource exploitation and trade; and identifying opportunities for the re-integration of ex-combatants from natural resources;

Environmental Diplomacy: Using shared natural resources or common environmental threats as a platform for dialogue, confidence-building and cooperation between divided communities or countries.

Legal Protection: Improving the protection of natural resources and the environment during armed conflicts through international legal instruments.

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