Shared environmental interests and cooperative action can be used to build trust, establish shared identities, and transform conflict into peace. Fifteen years ago, Ken Conca, Professor at American University’s School of International Service, and Geoffrey Dabelko, Professor and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Ohio University, introduced and examined this idea in their book, Environmental Peacemaking. Their work forever transformed the way policymakers around the world look at environmental protection, national security, and human rights.
On January 30, Professors Conca and Dabelko, the recipients of the prestigious Fifth Al-Moumin Award on Environmental Peacebuilding, reflected on the evolution of environmental peacebuilding research at American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C. They also discussed their long-term engagement with policymakers and practitioners and the ways their concept has been applied around the world.
The Al-Moumin Award and Distinguished Lecture on Environmental Peacebuilding is part of a broader effort by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), UN Environment, American University’s School of International Service, and other institutions to foster analysis and dialogue regarding the connections between conflict, peace, and the environment. The Al-Moumin Lecture Series recognizes leading thinkers who are shaping the field of environmental peacebuilding, which aims to improve natural resource management to prevent, end, and recover from armed conflict. The award and lecture are named after Dr. Mishkat Al-Moumin, Iraq’s first Minister of Environment, human rights and environment lawyer, and a former International Visiting Scholar at ELI.
“As the world experiences increasing pressures on its natural resources and climate, countries must learn to peacefully resolve resource disputes and make the environment a reason for cooperation rather than conflict,” said Scott Fulton, President of ELI. “This is at the heart of ELI’s Environmental Peacebuilding Program.”
Conca and Dabelko wrote Environmental Peacemaking in 2002 as a counterpoint to grim scenarios foreseeing environmental change and resource scarcity as a driver of conflict. The premise, said Conca, was fairly simple: “resource scarcity or ecosystem disruption creates grievances, and grievances create violent conflict.” Rather than focusing on the potential environmental triggers of conflict, the researchers sought to illustrate how environmental dynamics have also been used to create mutually beneficial opportunities.
“We wanted to turn that hypothesis on its head and ask whether these interdependencies were something we could use to build confidence, trust, and eventually peace,” Dabelko said.
Indeed, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment praised Dabelko and Conca for their contribution to the field: “No two individuals have shaped our institutional thinking on environmental peacebuilding more than Geoff Dabelko and Ken Conca. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their innovative thinking and the paradigm shift they have catalyzed through their work”.
Today, in a world of rising political tensions and a changing climate, the work of Conca and Dabelko is more important than ever. Environmental peacebuilding is gaining traction, with governments and nongovernmental organizations around the globe increasingly turning to environmental peacebuilding as a strategy for addressing conflict in a proactive way.
Many of the concepts and cases from the work of Conca and Dabelko are featured in a new massive open online course on Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace by the SDG Academy. The free online course, including a guest lecture by Professor Conca, runs from 1 March to 10 May 2018.