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Ambassadors and Experts Examine New Developments in Peacebuilding and Natural Resource Management

April 2012

Finland to the UN Security Councel 2013-2014Kingdom of BelgiumEnvironmental Law InstituteUnited Nations Environment ProgrammeUniversity of TokyoMcGill University

The Earth Institute - Columbia University

(NEW YORK) — On April 24, 70 ambassadors, international experts and researchers met to examine recent lessons from more than 60 countries in managing natural resources to support peacebuilding and conflict management. In opening the event, Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, the Permanent Representative 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. Published by Earthscan, these books analyze experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management; identify lessons; and raise awareness among practitioners and scholars. 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, written by more than 225 scholars, practitioners, and decision makers from around the world.

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 peace 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.

The panel debate showcased the need to provide a stronger profile for the role of local communities and a strengthened ownership for them. 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 mak