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David Jensen
Head of ECP

Matti Lehtonen
Inter-Agency Affairs

Andrew Morton
Greening of Peacekeeping

Dag Seierstad

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Natural resources and the environment can be both a source of tension and a platform for cooperation between parties in dispute. Environmental diplomacy – defined as a combination of tools and approaches to help parties in dispute create opportunities for cooperation, confidence building and conflict transformation by addressing joint environmental and natural resource issues - is therefore of critical and growing importance to the prevention, management and resolution of disputes, tensions and conflicts over natural resources. Oil, minerals and timber generate vast wealth; land and water sustain life and livelihoods: all are of vital importance to societies and peoples around the world. Consequently, concern about natural resources is frequently a driver of violent conflicts that immeasurably damage both the natural and the social environment. As the world’s population grows exponentially and the climate changes, pressure on the planet’s scarce and diminishing resources is increasing. These trends enhance the potential for natural resources to either contribute to conflict or cooperation depending on how these risks are anticipated, mitigated and managed.

Through this pillar of work, UNEP seeks to promote the shared use of natural resources or common environmental threats as a platform for dialogue, confidence-building and cooperation between divided communities or countries. Upon request, UNEP acts as a trusted third party in the resolution of existing and potential conflicts over natural resources and the environment by drawing on its neutrality, technical orientation and expertise in environmental cooperation.

In this regard, UNEP offers five main services to Member States and other stakeholders under the banner of “Environmental Diplomacy”. These are the following:

  • conducting assessments to identify rising tensions and conflicts over natural resources, opportunities for cooperation and technical entry points for engagement;
  • brokering meetings and providing a neutral platform for dialogue, information-sharing, and joint action in the management of natural resources and environmental threats;
  • providing impartial expertise, scientific analysis and policy advice over a contested natural resource or source of environmental degradation;
  • building capacity and catalyzes resources for the implementation of joint action plans and projects;
  • monitoring implementation of joint action plans and provide dispute resolution support.

    Policy Work

In 2011 for the first time in its history, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that explicitly pertained to mediation. In adopting ‘Strengthening the Role of Mediation in the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, Conflict Prevention and Resolution,’ the Assembly sent an unambiguous message to the international community. It signaled firstly that both the power and the potential of mediation had been recognized at the highest level. Secondly it acknowledged that mediation is increasingly significant as an effective tool for controlling conflict and mitigating its effects.

As a follow-up to this resolution, UNEP and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) teamed up to develop a joint guidance note on mediating natural resource conflicts and addressing natural resources within larger peace mediation processes. This guidance note will be released in the second half of 2013.

UNEP is also working on a policy report that looks at the opportunities of using environmental diplomacy to help promote peace throughout the different stages between a durable peace and armed conflict. It highlights, through the use of various case studies, how environmental diplomacy can contribute to peace, both in situations where environmental damage or contested natural resources have played a role in a conflict or are potential causes of tension, as well as where environmental change and natural resources have not played a direct role in a conflict, but can have a positive role in mediating solutions, and broadening cooperation between divided parties. This policy report on environmental diplomacy is to be launched during 2013.

Field Operations

Environmental diplomacy and mediation can be applied at the local level, the national level and the regional level where cooperation over natural resources can be brokered between divided groups.

UNEP has been pilot testing different approaches and undertaking field-level research to determine how the policy work on environmental diplomacy and mediation best translates into practical action on the ground.

As part of the work at the regional level, a joint study entitled Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel was published in December 2011. This study analyzes the historical climate trends in the region, identifies hotspots, determines the potential implications for resource-dependent livelihoods, and provides recommendations for improving conflict sensitivity in adaptation planning, investments and policies across the region. The study concludes that changing climatic conditions and their effect on the availability of natural resources, have lead to migration and increased competition over scarce resources and migration, which can lead to an increase in conflicts between different livelihood groups and communities. In this context of increased competition for natural resources, regional cooperation will be key to diffusing tensions, managing the risks, and curtailing the possibility of conflicts. Issues of climate change and migration are regional in nature and should therefore be managed at this same level. For more information go to the Sahel report page.

UNEP has also been working with the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, exploring challenges and opportunities for cooperation around natural resources in the border zone. A report entitled Haiti-Dominican Republic: Environmental Challenges in the Border Zone, will be published in mid 2013. UNEP has also conducted regional level environmental diplomacy work between Afghanistan and Iran and between Iraq and Iran on transboundary water, as well as conducting an independent analysis of the levels of oil contamination in Ogoniland in the Niger delta as a step to bring together the various parties in this long-lasting dispute.

A number of UNEP’s country programmes have also provided environmental diplomacy and mediation support to address resource conflicts and to use the environment as a basis for cooperation between divided groups. These include both operations in Sudan and in Afghanistan.

Publications of this pillar

The publications that have resulted from this pillar of work include:

For a full list of all ECP publications click here.

For further information on the Environmental Diplomacy programme please contact David Jensen, Head of ECP, at: or Dennis Hamro-Drotz, Programme Officer, at: