How can mediation be strengthened by better understanding of how conflicts over natural resources drive or reinforce? Which policy instruments can efficiently support transparency as a way to address corruption and restoring public trust in post-conflict situations? The Permanent Missions of Finland and Belgium organised a panel discussion to examine these questions. 70 ambassadors, international experts and researchers met to discuss topical lessons from more than 60 countries in managing natural resources to support peacebuilding and conflict management.
In his opening statement, Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen of Finland 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.” The meeting 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. The major output of a four-year research program, they include over 150 case studies and other analyses from more than 60 conflict-affected countries and territories.
Experience in managing land, minerals, water, and other resources after conflict highlights 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 mediation initiatives by 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 into larger conflicts,” Judy Cheng Hopkins, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, “consistent international action to effectively mediate disputes over natural resources can ensure that 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.
There was much interest in translating the learning from the books into action. Ambassador Jan Grauls of Belgium 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.
The event was organised by the Permanent Missions of Finland and Belgium to the United Nations in partnership with the Environmental Law Institute, the United Nations Environment Programme, the University of Tokyo and McGill University. The panel consisted of Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, the Earth Institute and Special Advisor to the Secretary-General; Judy Cheng Hopkins, ASG for Peacebuilding Support; Haddijatou Jallow, Executive Chair, Environmental Protection Agency – Sierra Leone (EPA-SL); Carl Bruch, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Institute (ELI); Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland and Ambassador Jan Grauls, Permanent Representative of Belgium. The panel was moderated by David Jensen, Head of Programme, Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding, UNEP. The event was held at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations on 24 April 2012.
More information on the project is available at www.environmentalpeacebuilding.org.