UNEP marks International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict Fri, Nov 6, 2015

In situations of war and armed conflict, the environment and natural resources can be used as weapons of war, suffer as collateral damage, or act as livelihood lifelines for affected populations.

Geneva/Nairobi, 6 November 2015 - On the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) underlined the continuing vulnerability of the environment to conflict and the importance of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and climate change negotiations in tackling the links between environment and conflict.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "While we have not been able to resolve conflict or environmental exploitation, today we better understand the complex interactions between them, particularly the way they cut across the core UN mandates for peace and security, human rights, sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and international law.

"Today, some 60 million displaced people are already fleeing conflict and disaster. The only way to avoid those numbers swelling even further is to grasp the opportunities offered by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the climate negotiations in Paris."

In situations of war and armed conflict, the environment and natural resources can be used as weapons of war, suffer as collateral damage, or act as livelihood lifelines for affected populations. Direct and indirect environmental impacts can be as diverse as air pollution, deforestation, a lack of waste management, degradation of protected areas and biodiversity, and a collapse of environmental governance structures.

The effects from damage done to the environment and natural resources during times of war and armed conflict continue far beyond the period of conflict itself. Such effects are passed on to future generations and may extend beyond the borders of the country impacted. Armed conflict has the potential to reverse years of development and destroy livelihoods.

UNEP has responded to crisis situations in more than 40 countries, providing high-quality environmental expertise and technical advice to national governments and partners in the UN family.

A joint UNEP-MONUSCO report revealed how environmental crime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has proven to be a key driver of conflict. The overwhelming majority of profits (over 90 per cent) from illegal natural resource exploitation and smuggling go to transnational organized criminal networks operating inside and outside the country. These networks have an incentive to destabilize the area while making sure that no particular armed group dominates, helping to explain the continued existence of more than 25 different armed groups in the east of the country despite several peace agreements since 2003.

Recently, a major impartial scientific assessment undertaken by UNEP in Côte d'Ivoire revealed the extent of the damage to much of the country's forests and many of its national parks. Not only did the period of crisis affect the environment directly, as people turned to natural resources as a source of income, but also indirectly as previously well-functioning governance structures broke down.

This International Day not only provides an opportunity to remember the environment as a silent victim, but also that natural resources can play an important role in conflicts themselves, as well as in post-conflict development and peacebuilding.

Over the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources. Such conflicts are twice as likely to relapse within five years of a peace agreement. Around the globe, the examples of conflicts linked to natural resources are innumerable, from disputes over access to land in Nepal to secessionist movements linked to distribution of oil and gas profits in Aceh, Indonesia. Resolving natural resource conflicts has become a defining peace and security challenge of the 21st century.

Through UNEP's Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding (ECP) programme, our collective understanding of the linkages between natural resources and conflict has taken a leap forward. UNEP and its partners have laid the foundations for a new multidisciplinary field of 'Environmental Peacebuilding'. An environmental peacebuilding Knowledge Platform has been created, with users from 185 different countries, and a community of practice of over 2,500 people from 90 countries has been formed. Case studies from over 60 countries have been brought together to generate a new and solid evidence base.

UNEP's continuing work in this field will be important to help realize Sustainable Development Goal 16 on building peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. For countries recovering from violent conflict, natural resources often offer the first opportunity to help stabilize and revive livelihoods and other economic activity. Adopting a conflict sensitive approach for all environment and natural resource management projects and capacity-building efforts will be essential.

As UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, stated "the environment has long been a silent casulty of war and armed conflict". UNEP hopes that, on this fourteenth observation of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, the progress in our understanding of the linkages between environment and conflict will continue, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 16 and for the benefit of future generations.

Notes to Editors

On 5 November 2001, General Assembly Resolution A/RES/56/4 marked the creation of the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

UNEP's Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding (ECP) programme was created in 2008 with the support of the Governments of Finland and Sweden. Further information on the ECP programme is available at unep.org/ecp. The Environmental Peacebuilding knowledge platform and community of practice can be accessed at www.environmentalpeacebuilding.org. A Summary of Progress from UNEP's Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme is available here.

The UNEP-MONUSCO Environmental Crime report, titled "Experts' background report on illegal exploitation and trade in natural resources benefitting organized criminal groups and recommendations on MONUSCO's role in fostering stability and peace in eastern DR Congo" was released in April 2015 and is available at unep.org/drcongo.

The Côte d'Ivoire Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, released in October 2015, is available online at unep.org/cotedivoire. All online materials related to UNEP's work in Côte d'Ivoire are available in both French and English. The full report includes details of the methodology used in the assessment, including how the UNEP team carried out their work, where samples were taken and the findings that they made. The assessment was conducted at the request of the Government of Côte d'Ivoire.

For more information, please contact:

Shereen Zorba, Head, News and Media, UNEP on Tel. +254 788526000 or unepnewsdesk@unep.org

Sophie Brown, UNEP Communications Advisor, Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch on +41 22 917 88 39 or sophie.brown@unep.org

 
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