Environmental peacebuilding

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Environmental peacebuilding examines and advocates environmental protection and cooperation as a factor in peaceful relations. Peacebuilding is both the theory and practice of identifying the conditions that can lead to a sustainable peace between those who have previously been adversaries, and assisting adversaries to move towards a sustainable peace. In the Middle East, common environmental challenges have been identified as a basis for regional cooperation and peacebuilding. A small Middle Eastern civil society network reaches across adversarial boundaries to promote and practice environmental cooperation.


The study of peacebuilding (a term coined by Galtung, 1975)[1] develops from interest in identifying the conditions that lead beyond a temporary cessation of violence to sustainable processes of conflict management and mutual cooperation between those who have previously been adversaries. Lederach[2] is most commonly cited, and his work has influenced national aid and development agencies, international agencies, and the network of NGOs that have placed peacebuilding on their agendas.

Beginning with Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali promoting An Agenda for Peace in 1992,[3] the United Nations adopted the language of peacebuilding and developed programs based on it. Initiatives promoting human security and human rights share a similar concern with developing an international system that promotes the underlying conditions for the movement towards a peaceful world.

Environmental peacebuilding[edit]

Within the field of peacebuilding studies and practice, there is a sub-literature on environmental peacebuilding that examines the role of environmental factors in moving towards a sustainable peace. At the most basic level, warfare devastates ecosystems and the livelihoods of those who depend on natural resources, and the anarchy of conflict situations leads to the uncontrolled, destructive exploitation of natural resources. Preventing these impacts allows for an easier movement to a sustainable peace.[4] From a more positive perspective, environmental cooperation can be one of the places where hostile parties can sustain a dialogue, and sustainable development is a prerequisite for a sustainable peace.[5][6]

Conca and Wallace[7] note the relationship between environmental peacebuilding projects and studies of environment and conflict. They observe that environmental challenges may be opportunities for peacebuilding, but they may also harden differences and reinforce conflict. Environmental challenges are also usually complexly interconnected to economic and governance challenges. Environmental issues are now routinely acknowledged as aspects of conflicts, and are necessarily part of the movement towards conflict management and the transformation of conflictual relations into peaceful ones.

The United Nations Environment Programme has placed environmental conflict and cooperation on its agenda,[8] conducted environmental assessments of conflict zones and has recommended[9] a stronger integration of environmental issues into the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission. "Land and Environment" is one of the ten themes of the United Nations Peacebuilding Portal. The University for Peace, sponsored by the United Nations, includes “Environmental Security and Peace” as one of its eight graduate programs.

Governmental and civil society organizations have also explored the role of environmental issues in peacebuilding. The EU sponsored Initiative for Peacebuilding has produced a series of papers on environmental peacebuilding. The International Crisis Group includes Climate Change and Conflict as one of its key areas. In conflict settings, civil society groups have promoted environmental peacebuilding.[10]

Environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East[edit]

The 1991 Madrid Conference, co-sponsored by the United States and the USSR, brought together representatives of the governments of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and a Palestinian delegation within the Jordanian delegation. The conference established working groups on refugees, regional security, economic development, water, and environment. The working groups on water and environment, and to some extent the one on economic development as well, had the agenda of bringing environmental cooperation and sustainable development into the formulation of a path to a sustainable Middle East peace.

The subsequent Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Peace treaty between Jordan and Israel each had sections that envisioned joint committees on water, environmental cooperation and economic development. When negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority stalled and relations again became strongly adversarial, progress towards cooperation on water, the environment and sustainable development also stalled. At the formal level there are contacts across adversarial lines between government officials and experts, water infrastructure was kept out of the violence of the Second Intifadah, and there is some degree of cooperation – not widely publicized - on urgent water and environmental concerns. Cooperative relations between Jordan and Israel have been maintained but progress is limited by the effects of the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Diplomatic work on environmental peacebuilding in the region has been supplemented by the development of a small network of civil society organizations that promote and practice regional environmental cooperation.[11][12]

Organizations involved in environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East[edit]

Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information[edit]

IPCRI opened in 1989 during the first Intifada under joint Israeli and Palestinian directors. IPCRI established the Water and Environment division in 1992. A 1993 edited book presented Palestinian and Israeli perspectives on water cooperation. Three IPCRI workshops held between 1994-6 on "Our Shared Environment" were followed by three volumes of papers from the workshops. The IPCRI Water and Environment division took the lead in organizing a 2004 Israeli-Palestinian International "Water for Life" Conference, co-chaired by Israeli and Palestinian professors, held in Turkey, where over five days about 130 participants from the region were joined by about 50 international water experts.

Subsequently, working with Israeli and Palestinian experts, IPCRI undertook a study of the management of the trans-boundary Nahal Alexander / Wadi Zomer basin. IPCRI is a partner in the "GLOWA Jordan River" study of the impact of climate change on the Jordan basin, and has undertaken, with the support of the Government of Japan, work designed to provide a model for low cost sanitation to a West Bank village.

EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East[edit]

EcoPeace / FoEME was founded in 1994 as a meeting place for Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli environmental NGOs and became an affiliate of Friends of the Earth in 1998. FOEME has a wide range of projects – organized around particular geographic areas (the Jordan River valley, the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba / Eilat), water (Good Water Neighbors, the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit, the mountain aquifer, "water, peace and the environment," water privatization), and environmental policy (sustainable development, climate change, "violent conflicts and the environment," trade and environment, solar power and healthy food). FoEME has promoted protection rather than development of the Dead Sea and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, advocated the establishment of a "peace park" along the Jordan River, and vigorously questioned the proposed mega-project to channel water from the Read Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2001 the FoEME Good Water Neighbors project has been working with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities that are mutually dependent on shared water resources. Each community is partnered with a neighboring community. Good Water Neighbors works with local community members on water education, awareness and development. GWN uses dependence on shared water sources as a basis for dialogue and cooperation between partnered communities.

FoEME has published its own study of environmental peacebuilding,[13] and circulates a monthly "environmental peacemaking" listserv.

Arava Institute for Environmental Studies[edit]

The institute opened in the 1996-7 academic year. For one or two semesters students from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and overseas live and study together on Kibbutz Ketura (in a remote part of the Negev desert south of the West Bank and just across the valley from Jordan) and receive university credit.[14] Enrolment, which is capped at 45, has varied. From 1996 to 2010, about 600 students have studied at the institute. University credit is now received through Ben Gurion University, and the institute co-sponsors a Master's program with Ben Gurion, in which some of its alumni have studied.

The alumni division maintains active Yahoo and Facebook "groups." Alumni involvement is supplemented by the Arava Alumni Peace and Environment Network (AAPEN) which held its first meeting in Aqaba in 2005 and has held subsequent meetings and other activities. The institute has also developed as a research center. The institute participates in projects as partners with Palestinian and Jordanian researchers and research organizations. These projects have included developing a center for sustainable agriculture, developing policy options for the Dead Sea, transboundary stream restoration, and a study of health effects from exposure to airborne particles. These projects involve links to international networks of research funding, and have brought regional conferences to the institute on a regular basis. The institute has co-sponsored a conference on alternative energy and the supported the development of the solar power oriented Arava Power Corporation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Galtung, Johan. 1975. "Three approaches to peace: peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding." In Peace, War and Defence - Essays in Peace Research Vol. 2, 282-304. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers.
  2. ^ Lederach, John Paul. Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press) 1997.
  3. ^ UN Secretary-General. 1992. "An Agenda for peace: preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping." UN Doc. A/47/277. June 17.
  4. ^ Pugh, Jeffrey (December 2008). "Challenges and opportunities of human conflict and environmental transformation in Ecuadorian highlands". Pirineos. 163: 63–75.
  5. ^ Carius, A. (2006). Environmental Peacebuilding: Cooperation as an Instrument of Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding: Conditions for Success and Constraints. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  6. ^ Halle, S. (Editor). (2009). From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and Environment. United Nations Environment Programme. Nairobi: Kenya.
  7. ^ Conca, K., & Wallace, J. (2009). Environment and Peacebuilding in War-torn Societies: Lessons from the UN Environment Programme's Experience with Postconflict Assessment. Global Governance, 15, 4, pp. 185-105.
  8. ^ UNEP. (2004). Understanding Environment, Conflict, and Cooperation. Nairobi: Kenya.
  9. ^ Halle, S. (Editor). (2009). From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and Environment. United Nations Environment Programme. Nairobi: Kenya.
  10. ^ Obi, Cyril I. 2005. Environmental Movements in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Political Ecology of Power and Conflict. UNRISD Programme on Civil Society and Social Movements, Paper Number 15, January.
  11. ^ Schoenfeld, Stuart. 2010. "Environment and Human Security in the Eastern Mediterranean: Regional Environmentalism in the Reframing of Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian Relations" in P. H. Liotta, David Mouat, Judith Lancaster, Bill Kepner and David Smith, eds. Achieving Environmental Security: Ecosystem Services and Human Welfare. Amsterdam: IOS Press.
  12. ^ Kramer, A. (2008). Regional Water Cooperation and Peacebuilding in the Middle East. Adelphi Research, Initiative For Peace.
  13. ^ Harari, N., & Roseman, J. (2008). Environmental Peacebuilding Theory and Practice: A Case Study of the Good Water Neighbours Project and In Depth Analysis of the Wadi Fukin / Tzur Hadassah Communities. EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East.
  14. ^ Alleson, Ilan and Stuart Schoenfeld. 2007. "Environmental Justice and Peacebuilding in the Middle East," Peace Review 19:371-379.

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