Experts Examine New Developments in Peacebuilding and Natural Resource Management
New York, 25 April 2012 - Some 70 ambassadors, international experts and researchers met this week to examine recent lessons from more than 60 countries in managing natural resources to support peacebuilding and conflict management.
The event marked the formal launch of a series of six flagship books on the topic developed by the Environmental Law Institute, the United Nations Environment Programme, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University.
In opening the event, Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, the Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, noted that "linkages among natural resources, environment, and security are prominent features of Finnish foreign policy and we are proud to actively promote the use of mediation in conflict prevention and resolution."
Published by Earthscan, the book series analyzes experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management, identifies lessons, and raises awareness among practitioners and scholars.
The major output of a four-year research program, the publications include over 150 case studies from conflict-affected countries and territories, written by more than 225 scholars, practitioners, and decision makers from around the world.
Past experiences in managing land, minerals and water after conflict highlight the importance of natural resources to peacebuilding as well as a range of innovative approaches.
"Natural resources cut across the peacebuilding priorities identified by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon," observed Carl Bruch of the Environmental Law Institute, "and we have learned much about approaches for managing natural resources to support peacebuilding." There are no simple solutions, though. Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University noted that "Mastering complexity is at the core of peacebuilding, and we must avoid oversimplifying both the issues and our responses."
Many of the emerging tools for managing natural resources in post-conflict countries emphasize transparency. These include, for example, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, environmental impact assessment, and making concession contracts and wealth sharing provisions publicly available. Sierra Leone and other countries have made progress in promoting transparency in the governance of natural resources. Where countries have made progress, it is usually due to political will and leadership. For example, Haddijatou Jallow, the head of the Environment Protection Agency-Sierra Leone, reported that "political commitment at the highest level of government to transparency and good governance of natural resources was essential to the progress made by Sierra Leone."
The experts and ambassadors highlighted the importance of strengthening peace mediation initiatives through better understanding of how conflicts over natural resources drive, reinforce, or compound political, security, or socio-economic tensions and stress factors.
Establishing local level dispute resolution capacity and effective mechanisms for resolving grievances over natural resource access and ownership were also identified as key needs. Noting that "Local conflicts over natural resources can easily escalate," Judy Cheng Hopkins, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, called for "more consistent international action to effectively mediate disputes over natural resources and to ensure the benefits of resource extraction are shared more equitably". In many cases, however, she noted that there are difficulties in national leaders and international organizations in connecting with civil society and gaining their trust.
Noting experiences in their own conflict-affected countries, ambassadors from both Nepal and Somalia emphasized the importance of decentralization and public participation in resource management, as well as being realistic about the challenges facing post-conflict societies. They also called on the UN system to make more technical expertise and resources available to help countries avoid the perils, and capitalize on the opportunities, presented by natural resources. In this regard, Professor Sachs noted that the series of books provide "an extraordinary, unique, and invaluable resource for practitioners, researchers, and decision makers" to meet these needs.
In closing the meeting, Ambassador Jan Grauls, the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations, highlighted a proposal by Belgium, Gabon, and a Group of Friends on Natural Resources-including Finland-for a draft resolution on natural resource governance and transparency in the next session of the General Assembly. He also stressed the importance of the fact that hitherto autonomous topics such as mediation, peacebuilding, and transparency are now converging into a nexus of related and mutually reinforcing elements.
This meeting is part of a week-long series of events on peacebuilding and natural resources convened in New York for political missions, UN staff, experts, and researchers. These events seek to share findings, raise awareness, and catalyze action, including the development of curricula for courses and training programs.
The new book series and its associated research project is the largest undertaking of its kind and will become a major milestone toward improving post-conflict resource management.
David Jensen, of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: "This series is an extraordinary step forward in terms of understanding how to sustain peace after conflict using the natural resource base." The research outcomes will be used for further policy development, technical assistance, staff training, and field-level capacity building programs globally.
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More information on the project is available at www.environmentalpeacebuilding.org.