International peace and security underpin the United Nations Charter, which commits the international community “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The critical role of peace and security for sustainable development is further emphasized in the Rio Declaration, which calls for States to “respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.” It also explicitly recognizes that peace, development and environmental protection are “interdependent and indivisible.” Finally, the UN General Assembly has recently linked armed conflict and natural resources in several important resolutions, specifically identifying the exploitation of natural resources as a source of conflict and a threat to durable peace and sustainable development in Africa, for example.
Linking the terms “environment” and “conflict” remains contentious in today’s international political arena. While most acknowledge that numerous conflicts have been fueled by natural resources, UN Member States are divided on how to address the linkages. Some States express concern about protecting their sovereign right to use their resources according to their national interest. Many others consider environmental degradation and the illegal exploitation of natural resources as issues of international concern requiring a coordinated global approach. In their view, the potential impacts of climate change on the availability of natural resources, coupled with rising consumer demand and the free flow of international investment capital, only sharpen the need for collective action.
This report discusses the key linkages between environment, conflict and peacebuilding, and provides recommendations on how these can be addressed more effectively by the international community. It has been developed in the context of UNEP’s mandate to “keep under review the world environmental situation in order to ensure that emerging environmental problems of wide international significance receive appropriate and adequate consideration by governments.”
UNEP has been helping Member States to assess the environmental impacts of conflicts and disasters since 1999. This report extends this work by investigating not only how the environment and natural resources are damaged by conflict, but also how they contribute to both conflict and peacebuilding. Developed by UNEP and its Expert Advisory Group on Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding as part of UNEP’s technical support to the UN Peacebuilding Commission, it has been financially supported by the Government of Finland.
In supporting the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report, UNEP seeks to partner with UN agencies, Member States, and other stakeholders to address the environmental needs of war-torn societies, and to provide the technical expertise necessary to integrate those needs into peacebuilding interventions and conflict prevention. This report advocates the value of sound environmental and natural resource management as key inputs to achieve these aims.
We invite the international community to engage with us to transform environmental challenges into opportunities, and hope this report will contribute to advancing the objectives of the UN Charter on peace and security, as well as the mandate of the UN Peacebuilding Commission in facilitating the transition from conflict to lasting peace and sustainable development.
Jane Holl Lute
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.
This is a chapter from From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (report).
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