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Image by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

 

How can the environment affect conflicts? What is the link between the environment and violent conflicts? How can we take the environment into consideration when trying to resolve conflicts? In this blog post we will take a closer look on these and other questions regarding this theme.

 

The environment and different phases of a conflict

When conflicts start out: The environment can play a big part when it comes to the outbreak of conflicts. Examples of this can be conflicts over resources like goldmines or oil, or conflicts that happen or get worse because of for example droughts or floods.

Keeping conflicts going: The environment can also be a factor in sustaining conflicts that started for other reasons. For example, natural resources can be used to finance armed forces in a violent conflict, or the conflict can escalate because the conflicting parts all want to gain control over areas that are rich in resources.

Hinder the resolution of conflicts /reconciliation: For example if ending a conflict means that some of the parties might lose access to certain resources, or that they no longer will be able to get money from exploiting the resources in question, it makes the process of reaching an agreement or resolution longer and harder.

 

What about the future? If the demands on nature and resources only gets bigger, what will happen when the planet finally can’t sustain us anymore? The chances are that more conflicts will arise in order to gain control over the remaining resources.

With this in mind we can see that caring about the environment and helping to create sustainable development is an essential part of preventing conflicts. As the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) put it: “If we did a better job of managing our resources sustainably, conflicts over them would be reduced. So, protecting the global environment is directly related to securing peace.”

 

However, the environment isn’t only a source of conflict, it can also be used as an important factor in the reconciliation process. For instance to improve the environment can be a good way for conflicting countries to find safe and common ground where they can start trusting each other and cooperating towards a common goal. A good example of this is the cooperation between Iran and Iraq in order to improve the water resources situated at their joint border, starting from 2004. After decades of war and hostility between the two countries they started a series of meetings to reach this common goal. These meetings helped them to develop trust towards each other and a willingness for further cooperation, and were an important step in further reconciliation between them.

 

This was only a little introduction into a huge part of the conflict and resolution field. If you’re interested you can read more for example on the page of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) or the page of IISD.