Chapter 8: Building Peace Through Environmental Cooperation

Ken Conca, Alexander Carius, and Geoffrey D. Dabelko

A growing array of initiatives—including peace parks, shared river basin management plans, regional seas agreements, and joint environmental monitoring programs—blend ecology and politics in the service of peace. Environmental peacemaking uses cooperative efforts to manage environmental resources as a way to transform insecurities and create more peaceful relations between parties in dispute. As such initiatives become more frequent and gain momentum, they may transform both how people approach conflict and how people view the environment.

As a peacemaking tool, the environment offers some useful—perhaps even unique—qualities that lend themselves to building peace and transforming conflict: environmental challenges ignore political boundaries, require a long-term perspective, encourage local and nongovernmental participation, and extend community building beyond polarizing economic linkages. Where cooperation does take root, it may help to enhance trust, establish cooperative habits, create shared regional identities around shared resources, and establish mutually recognized rights and expectations.

Recognizing the potentially critical linkages between the environment and insecurity, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for integrating environmental contributions to conflict and instability into the U.N.’s conflict prevention strategy and the deliberations of his High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Surprisingly, however, relatively little is known about the best design for environmental peacemaking initiatives or the conditions under which they are most likely to succeed. Without better knowledge and a stronger commitment to study current efforts, the international community may be missing powerful peacemaking opportunities in the environmental domain.