We’ve seen a big interest in attending the Nature of Peace conference, and already the 20 seats we had for attendees are filled. We do, however, have space for some more on one day of the conference, namely Thursday the 26th of April. To register, go to this eventbrite event!
The day will involve keynotes, an interactive session, and seminars on nature and peace with international guests presenting their papers.
This ticket allows you to listen to the seminars and participate in the discussions and sessions.
In this piece, I explore the notion of environmental justice by looking at international environmental law and how it pertains to peacebuilding. Environmental degradation resulting from armed conflict and/or institutional collapse, disputes over land rights and management over ‘conflict resources’ must be dealt with in a just and fair manner to build positive peace. For this reason, there is a growing advocacy on how environmental justice can be applied to pave the way to sustainable peace. For instance, such advocacy can involve pushing for local communities’ participation in decision-making related to environmental matters; undertaking proper measure to clear areas contaminated with explosive remnants from the hostilities; restoring access to safe drinking water etc. The notion of environmental justice is however multifaceted and lacks a universal definition. Its meaning changes depending on place, period, and perspective. For instance, in the US, it referred to exposing racism in the allocation of waste and linking environmental justice to citizens’ rights, while in Latin America, it has been related to social movements showing the unequal exchange between the Global South and North in resource exploitation, extractives and destruction of local livelihoods. Thus, environmental justice must be regarded as something relative that has diverse meanings to different communities, societies and institutions. Environmental justice is not a purely legal concept. It goes beyond law, having also moral, philosophical and political underpinnings. Just as the notion of justice is fluid and relative, as there is no such a thing as absolute justice, the same goes for environmental justice. The law should be viewed as merely a compromise of different understandings of justice. Yet, a legal system must be perceived as fair and just to maintain its legitimacy and authority. This is especially important in post-conflict contexts where parallel, informal justice systems can otherwise develop and compete with the legal system, which endanger predictability and trust in the law. Such a development entails a risk of destabilising an already fragile peace. International environmental law can shed some light on the content of environmental justice, especially in terms of environmental peacebuilding.
The term ‘environmental justice’ has its roots from an American movement in the 1980s protesting the placing of hazardous waste sites and other environmentally toxic facilities in poor black communities. In this case, environmental injustice describes how members of disadvantaged groups suffer disproportionately from environmental risks and degradation. Today, the notion of environmental justice hosts a broader set of meanings going beyond environmental degradation and social fairness. Environmental justice usually evolves around differences in how people and/or communities are adversely affected by environmental risks or pollutions, uneven distribution of natural resources and lack of access to justice regarding environmental matters. On an international level, environmental justice between states focuses on geopolitical tensions, for instance, how environmental harm has more serious consequences in the poorest regions in the world. For instance, the effects of climate change are likely to affect severely and disproportionately developing states that are particularly vulnerable to such effects. At the same time, developed states have greater financial and technical capability to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and to adapt to and diminish impacts resulting from climate change.
Environmental justice is commonly described as dealing with three kinds of concerns: distribution, procedure and recognition. Distributive justice relates to equal distribution of wealth and income from environmental resources, but also for carrying the burden of preventing and repairing environmental degradation in accordance with capacity and responsibility. Procedural justice concerns rights to access to information and participate in environmental decision-making. This is to make sure that those affected by the decisions also have influence during the decision-making process. The third kind relates to the respect for identities and cultural difference. It serves to ensure that local cultures, knowledge and ideas are valued in intercultural engagement. All these concerns of environmental justice are incorporated in international environmental law.
One of the most influential instruments in creating and shaping international environmental law is the 1992 Rio Declaration. In this instrument, there are mainly three principles expressing aspects of environmental justice: Principle 7 stating the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities; Principle 10 dealing with access to environmental justice; and Principle 22 acknowledging the role of indigenous people and their communities as well as other local communities in environmental management and development. The Rio Declaration is not binding as such; nevertheless, many of its principles reflect the content of international environmental customary law, which is binding for all states. Aspects of the principles just mentioned have also been expressed in several binding environmental agreements. In addition, specifically in regard to peacebuilding, Principle 25 in the Rio declaration highlights how peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.
The principle or the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities captures partly the essence of distributive environmental justice. It provides for states to contribute differently to prevent and mitigate environmental degradation depending on their capability as well as their responsibilities. To achieve an equitable distribution of the burdens to safeguard the environment, various environmental agreements have established financial mechanisms, expressed exemptions, and included provisions for transfer of technology and flexibility in the times required for compliance with international environmental obligations to benefit developing states. At the same time, developed states should take a greater responsibility than developing states to pay for past, present and future harms to the environment. Developed states should also transfer technology and invest in capacity building for developing states to assist them in complying with environmental obligations. This is due both to the larger capacity of developed states but also because they bear historically a greater responsibility for the current state of the environment. In the context of peacebuilding, this principle provides a framework to force other states to assist war-torn developing states under environmental stress. It provides for that developed states are under an obligation to provide technical, financial and other types of assistance to safeguard the environment, particularly in fragile states struggling to build an environmentally sound peace.
In relation to the procedural environmental justice, Principle 10 in the Rio Declaration ensures that individuals have rights to access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, and the opportunity to participate in environmental decision-making. According to this principle, states have an obligation to facilitate public awareness by making information on environmental matters widely available. In addition, states are obligated under the same principle to provide effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including means of reparations and compensations. Similar rights can also be found in international human rights law instruments. In a peacebuilding process, international law provides for procedural environmental justice that can be applied to ensure access to information and public participation of local communities and individuals in decision-making in relation to the environment. Decisions on environmental management and allocation of natural resources should be invoked in this context in accordance with the law to provide procedural equity through decision-making with the participation of those affected. If such procedures are correctly incorporated, it will empower local communities in a peace process aiming at producing outcomes that treat all affected groups fairly in matters regarding land rights, exploitation of natural resources and environmental investments or risks. However, just because the principle exists in international law, it does not necessary mean that it is respected and enforced, especially in situations of post-conflict where the state may be facing problems to uphold its state functions and institutions. Still, the principle conveys an important message to all actors – internal as well as external – involved in the peace process to not bypass communities affected by environmental matters and an obligation to ensure them influence and access to justice. Even though the primary subjects of international law are the states, even private actors may be forced to comply with this principle depending on how well it has been implemented in national legislation of the post-conflict state or actors’ home state or due to voluntary measures initiated by the industry or international organisations.
Regarding the concern for recognition, Principle 22 in the Rio Declaration expresses that states should recognise and support indigenous and other communities, their identity, culture and interests. Furthermore, it calls for adopting means to enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development. This includes respect of their traditional knowledge and practices in relation to environmental management. There are many examples on how indigenous peoples have suffered from conservation policies, in particular in states affected by armed conflicts including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, Colombia. States are under an international obligation to recognise indigenous peoples and to provide for appropriate procedures and institutions for indigenous peoples facilitate the respect for cultural differences. The environmental justice concern for recognising cultural identity both ensures rights for indigenous peoples to occupy and exploit their ancestral land as well as rights of varying degrees to participate and influence in matters regarding the land. As indigenous territories are usually rich in biological diversity and valuable natural resources, in many war-torn states, hostilities often takes place in these remote and biodiversity rich areas having severe impacts on indigenous peoples. In addition, when peace has been established, vulnerable indigenous communities can be marginalised if they are not recognised in the peacebuilding activities. The rights of the indigenous and other local communities expressed in international environmental law and human rights law are essential in a peace process to ensure social inclusion of different cultures.
To summarise, international environmental law does not provide a clear-cut solution on how to achieve environmental justice in post-conflict. However, it provides tools to address environmental entitlements, human vulnerability, and management of natural resources, which are all pressing concerns in a peacebuilding process. It contributes to stress the responsibility of states to equally distribute environmental risks and hazards as well as investments, benefits and natural resources. Also, the law ensures access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice in all environmental matters and to recognise different cultural identities, ideas and practice. For that reason, international environmental law is a good starting point of how to build sustainable peace in an environmentally just manner. However, to fully understand the meaning and implications of environmental justice, the notion needs to be approached from other disciplines as well.
November, turned out to be inspiring with interesting debates with diverse scholars on nature after war and/or during peacebuilding. Our conversations dealt with different topics such as the centrality of natural resource exploitation for the recovery of national and regional economies and state reconstruction, the use of environmental law to generate institutional change and political reconfigurations, or environmental peacebuilding.
Our interlocutors came from diverse countries… Denmark, USA, and Philippines.
Nature and justice
We have an informal meeting with Mark Antony Torres who is Director of the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao University and Associate Professor of the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Mathematics. We discuss among other issues, the importance of cultural understanding of nature and the many and diverse judicial systems a society might have, drawing on the case of Philippines.
This, I argue, is relevant when setting policy and research priorities in post-conflict situations and reconstruction processes: whose justice system will be recognized? How would different systems be considered? Which different understandings of nature are embodied in these diverse jurisdictional systems?
These are central questions for an environmental justice that recognized different conceptualizations of nature and is opened for the participation of different social / ethnic groups. A sustainable peace and development can only work if accommodates such an environmental justice.
Natural resource exploitation
We had a seminar with Christian Lund who is Professor in Development, Resource Management, and Governance, at the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO) at University of Copenhagen. He very recently published a paper: “Predatory peace. Dispossession at Aceh’s oil palmfrontier” in the Journal of Peasant Studies.
Even though the paper does not address the issue of “justice” in post-conflict Aceh, it is very much about that. Farmers were longing for peace (political stability) in order to access land and put it under production. Instead, palm oil corporation were given priority by the new government to use agricultural land for large scale palm plantation. Whose claims are recognized? Whose authority is legitimate?
The case presented is, sadly, a good empirical example of current trends in many post-conflict societies. It warns us about natural resources (in this case land) and public resources distribution among different sectors of the population and the justice and injustices behind such distribution and accumulation. The complexity of the case is very well explored in the paper.
At the end of the conversation I wonder: who was pushing for peace in Aceh? Which has been the context (e.g. post-tsunami) and role that palm oil corporations had in the peace process and “political stability”, if any?
We had a video conference with Teo Ballvé, who is Assistant Professor at the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, Department of Geography, at Colgate University, New York. We discuss among other issues how to study and conduct research on “environmental peacebuilding”, and how to further conceptualize and operationalize this notion.
The geographical and theoretical scale of analysis here shifted from national (central state reconstruction, economic growth, insertion in the global economy) to local communities and their livelihoods (even though this was also discussed in “Predatory Peace”).
Relevant from this approach is how community projects around local natural resources and livelihoods can pave the way to reconciliation and community building helping towards a sustainable peace from the ground.
We have a seminar with Frank Baber to discuss on environmental law. Frank is joining Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) as Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Public International Law and will be staying in Lund for the next nine months. He is professor in the Environmental Sciences and Policy Program and the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach.
Environmental legislation which seeks to regulate biodiversity conservation, or the use of natural resources can be used as a political tool to motorize different processes. Focusing on a concrete case, namely Afghanistan, we discuss the relevance of environmental law for institutional change and state reconstruction in a post-conflict situation.
In this case we did not discuss how natural resources are appropriated and exploited/conserved, or the competing cultural understandings of nature, but how “talking about the environment” (or trying to regulate its access and use) is as much relevant as the actual appropriation of it. After all, it defines the future of nature and people.
These conversations have been very inspiring and helpful to start thinking on an environmental justice approach to post-conflict and peacebuilding!
Researchers working in this transdisciplinary project have different fields of expertise, ranging from theology to natural science. We have, however, a common interest: we are all interested in nature. We wonder whether nature will be at peace after armed-conflicts have come to a halt.
We have formulated some guiding questions: what happens to nature after a peace agreement? How is the natural environment transformed in post-conflict societies? What happens to natural resources once a country is ready for development?
Another common concern we have is: do we all have a common understanding when we talk about nature, natural environment and natural resources? Are these terms referring to similar things? And what about the notions of ecosystems or the non-human world for instance? What ideas are behind each of these terms?
Here is an attempt to bring this into discussion. We do not intend to answer the question “What is Nature?” We simply want to present some notions related to nature, so that we can start building a common ground for future analytical endeavours.
The idea of nature relates in general to the non-human world. We usually refer to nature when we think of all that is not social/cultural. For many, however, the nature-society is a forced dichotomy (*). After all, humans are biological beings and as such, they are also part of nature. For some, the non-human world also refers to the spiritual and/or cosmological world, which does not necessary refer to nature.
The notion of natural environment refers to the nature that surrounds humans. If humans are in the centre and surrounded by nature, then an obvious question is: who is being surrounded? Are all humans equal? What different “natures” do we have access to and why?
The term natural resources refer to the idea that some “nature” can be valued and become a resource for something. The obvious question here is: which value system and whose values? In current global neoliberal capitalism, is the value given by transnational corporations to nature the same as the value given by communities whose livelihoods depend directly on nature?
It seems then that nature has to do with life, with processes that are conditioned by, but go beyond, human control. Having this in mind then, we can agree that for analytical purposes, we will use the notion of nature to refer to non-human processes (such as biological or geological) in different time and space scales. Even such processes are not governed by human “rationality” they are very much conditioned by political, economical, and social activities. For example, we will focus on nature when we want to know how soil or trees are produced, how land is distributed or put under production, how forest is used or conserved, how oil and minerals are exploited, how water is cleaned or polluted, who benefits from such activities, who has access to environmental political participation, and whose worldviews are recognized in policy making and legislation.
Therefore, we will in this project focus in human activities controlling and regulating how nature is produced, consumed, distributed, and lived by different group of people during peace-building processes and whether this promotes sustainable peace and environmental justice or not.
In any case, what do you think nature is and how does it matter in post-conflict situations?
Comments are welcome!
(*) Division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups. dichotomy. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/dichotomy (accessed: October 9, 2017).
By: Lina Eklund
Most people will probably agree that peace is something we desire. We want the dead to rest in peace, and we also want to live in peace (although that seems like a much tougher goal). But what does peace really mean?
Is peace binary – either there is peace or there is not – or is there a peace scale? Can you have more peace and less peace? 100% peace, or 54% peace?
There are many definitions of peace in the dictionary. Peace can mean a state of quiet and calm. Peace can also mean the absence of conflict, disturbance, or war. However, war or conflict is never defined as the absence of peace. Why is that? Conflict is active but peace is passive?
In our discussions as an interdisciplinary group we have realized that the process towards peace has many different stages. The first step is a ceasefire, which means that the hostilities stops, although the conflict is still not resolved. The next step, a peace agreement or treaty, is a formal agreement between two or more parties in conflict to end the war. This agreement often includes issues like borders, access to resources, refugees and debts. A peace agreement, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that all conflict is gone. We may have a “negative peace” – referring to the absence of armed violence – but the aim is a “positive” peace, i.e. the absence of structural and cultural violence, where basic human rights are respected. In the aftermath of a peace agreement, there’s still a lot of peacebuilding to be made, both on a structural level (normalization) and on a cultural level (reconciliation), which may take a long time.
From our discussions as an interdisciplinary group it has become clear that peace is not a simple term to work with. It means different things to different people, and it has several different definitions and stages that needs to be considered when discussing the effects of peace.
Furthermore, peace is often positively associated with nature. Peaceful moments can be experienced in a forest, on a mountain or by a lake. Yet in this theme we discuss not only the positive effects of peace on nature, but also the negative effects. In this view peace comes with some processes that are not necessarily peaceful from a nature-perspective: economic growth and resource extraction.
We therefore wonder: who is the peace for and who it should benefit to be sustainable?