Searching for environmental justice in peacebuilding – Tools offered by international environmental law

By: Britta Sjöstedt

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.

Different paths are possible when working towards environmental justice.

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.


Conversations on nature after war

By Maria Andrea Nardi

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.

Mark (left) and Alejandro (right)

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.

Christian during our meeting

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?

Environmental peacebuilding

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.

Environmental law

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!

Working towards Paradise; Environmental peacebuilding in practice, part 2

By Joshka Wessels

PART 2: The case of Wadi Fukin, an example of environmental peacebuilding

To illustrate what is meant with environmental peacebuilding in practice and the many challenges that come with this kind of approach, I would like to focus on the human-environment nexus at local level in the Jordan River Basin. This was the topic of my postdoctoral research at Lund University between 2011-2014 and a documentary that I filmed and produced in 2010. With respect to one of the most conflictuous ecosystems in the world, the Jordan River Basin, it sounds maybe strange to look at the natural environment as a motivation for enemies to work together. But interestingly, the overwhelming common denominator in all six basins in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Jordan, the Nile, the Litani and the Orontes -, is the potential of water body management to foster peace and democratic stability in the region (Amery and Wolf, 2000; Kramer, 2008; Harari and Roseman, 2008; Wessels, 2009; FoEME, 2010).

Looking at environmentalism in religion, we can distinguish common ground of perceiving nature as ”Divine and God-given” (Tucker and Grim, 1999). In a religious framework, God as universal power created nature and therefore our natural environment can be regarded as spiritual, sacred and divine. These principles can be traced back in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the three main religions in the MENA region that come together in the Jordan River Basin. Some of the holiest places of these three world religions are located in this ecosystem. Environmentalism has certainly been applied as a potential principle of finding common ground in both interfaith peace building efforts and environmental activism in civil society with initiatives by community based NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME)– ECOPeace (FoEME, 2010; Schoenfeld, 2011).

Indeed, we observe at local level in the Jordan River Basin, that the environment has in some cases joined together foes from different religious backgrounds. In 2009, I started to film in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the development of a documentary project about the Jordan River. On one of these occasions, I met with Palestinian villagers in Wadi Fukin working together with Israeli inhabitants of the neighboring village of Tzur Haddasah, inside Israel proper, within the 1967- ceasefire line borders. Wadi Fukin is part of a wider ecological peace building project run by the regional NGO FoEME-ECOPeace called ”Good Water Neighbors” (FoEME, 2010). My filming resulted in a long documentary film called “Valley of Hope and Despair” of which a shortened version was broadcast worldwide at Al Jazeera International in November 2010 (to watch the film, follow the on-line link here).

Figure 1 Israeli Tami Doron (l) and Palestinian Abu Mazen (r) built a friendship based on their love for nature – still of the film “Valleys of Hope and Despair” © Joshka Wessels 2010.

The film tells the story of Abu Mazen, who is a Palestinian farmer of Wadi Fukin in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and his environmental peacebuilding efforts with Tami Doron, who is living in the Israeli village Tzur Hadassah, on the other side of the ceasefire line, the so-called 1967 green line, inside Israel (see figure 1). Abu Mazen’s family has been farming and irrigating the traditional terraces of Wadi Fukin since 600 years. The valley of Wadi Fukin is designated by UNESCO as the best preserved natural heritage in the occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. During the first intifada (1987-1993) the farmers of Wadi Fukin could not reach the markets in nearby Bethlehem. They found ready customers for their biological products, fruits and vegetables, in the nearby Israeli community of Tzur Hadassah. Since that time, a friendly relationship grew between some of the farmers of Wadi Fukin and the Israeli inhabitants of the village of Tzur Hadassah. This relationship sustained until today. Together these two communities have succesfully set up a courtcase to halt the building of a security wall that was planned through the valley, based on environmental arguments (Wessels, 2015). They rally against the expansion of the nearby illegal settlement of Beitar Illit, located in Palestinian territory next to the valley and they have build a so-called neighbours’ path going from Tzur Haddassah to Wadi Fukin. Preserving this unique natural heritage is the main driving force that brings these Israeli and Palestinian activists together. Their ”dreamed-of order” of a well preserved natural heritage of the valley of Wadi Fukin is shared at local level between Israelis and Palestinians across the ceasefire divide. However, this binding love for nature is not reflected at national political level.

Figure 2 The author interviewing the Palestinian Minister of Water, Dr. Shaddad Attili, next to a sewage spill in the valley of Wadi Fukin © Joshka Wessels

On national level and at local level, the mistrust from the Palestinian community towards Israeli’s runs very deep.  The Israeli government does not act in the same manner as the Israeli activists from Tzur Hadassah. Continuous military occupation and settlement expansion are main daily threats to the valley of Wadi Fukin, which lies between the areas B and C in the occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. The illegal settlement of Beitar Illit, next to the valley, is the second largest in the West Bank and rapidly growing (Lazaroff, 2017). In my film, I show a timelapse, filmed between 2009 and 2010, in which the rapid growth of the nearby settlement of Beitar Illit is visually documented. From the original 12 km2 of land, the Israeli authorities confiscated 8,5 km2 for settlement construction since the start of the settlement building in 1985. On Fridays, Israeli army soldiers swim in the Palestinian irrigation ponds in Wadi Fukin and on Saturdays, the settlement of Beitar Illit often lets the sewage water flow from the hills onto the Palestinan fields (see figure 2). Sewage spilling is a common practice of deliberate environmental pollution, together with pollution by Israeli factories in the occupied West bank, avoiding stringent Israeli environmental laws (Dresse et al., 2016). Therefore some Palestinians refuse to work or cooperate with any Israelis, even if they have good intentions for protecting the environment, such as the Israeli activists of Tzur Hadassah.  Despite this animosity, through their environmental activism, the two local peace activist communities have managed to solve some part of the sewage problem but this is just a small victory. Tami from Tzur Hadassah summarizes it poignantly in the film, when she says; ’yes, the sewage problem is solved, but we do not have any faith in the peace process in the Middle-East’.

Figure 3 The author (middle) with the Israeli/Palestinian film crew (l) and Abu Mazen and his wife (r) in their house in Wadi Fukin. © Joshka Wessels


The case of Wadi Fukin indicates that environmental peacebuilding is indeed possible at a local level, in a situation when a ceasefire agreement has led to cessation of  armed conflict and adversaries are working together to protect the environment. The Wadi Fukin case also shows however that despite the shared love for nature and the shared visions of a Geertzian ”dreamed-of order” of an ecological paradise in Wadi Fukin, political developments and power dimensions at a larger scale, at national level, can seriously hamper constructive environmental peacebuilding. For any kind of ecological approach to peace to succeed at a national level, this kind of approach to peacebuilding still has a very long way to go.

On-line links:

The documentary film ”Valleys of Hope and Despair” shortened version broadcast at Al Jazeera International

”Valleys of Hope and Despair, peacebuilding through environmental documentaries” Powerpoint presentation by Joshka Wessels at the 4th International Conference on Peace & Reconciliation: mediating peace: reconciliation through Art, Music and Film, 6-9 November, 2012,  Jerusalem, Israel.


Working towards Paradise; Environmental peacebuilding in practice, part 1

By Joshka Wessels

Our Theme Nature of Peace explores links between the natural environment and peacebuilding in post armed-conflict societies. This is a blogpost in two parts with some reflections on environmental peacebuilding, based on my experience doing postdoctoral research on this topic and a documentary that I produced about environmental cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in 2010.

PART 1: Theories of Environmental Peacebuilding

Our main question at Nature of Peace, investigates what role the natural environment can play in post-conflict peacebuilding. In each armed conflict on our planet, environmental dimensions, effects and causes can be identified (Homer-Dixon, 1999).  Often these are an integral part of a plethora of political, psychological, cultural and territorial dimensions of armed conflicts. Exploring the linkages between humans and their environment has a long history in both the social and the biophysical sciences but the potential of a shared environment for peace building is a relatively under researched area. The empirical body at local level is actually quite slim. There is not a lot of extensive data on how and if the environment enhances cooperation between adversaries, after an armed conflict. Several interdisciplinary academic fields are working within our main Theme question, such as the upcoming fields of warfare ecology (Machlis et al. , 2011),  environmental politics, political ecology and environmental peacemaking (Waisová 2017; Dresse et al., 2016; Carius, 2007; Conca and Dabelko, 2002), which are all areas and fields of social and physical science research investigating the environmental dimensions to armed and unarmed conflicts.

Nature and the environment are often neglected in peace treaties or regarded as lower priorities in conventional and (neo)liberal peace building efforts. In any case, the environment is not a priority in peace negotiations or ceasefire agreements. Liberal and neoliberal peacebuilding, influenced by rational choice theory and a Western-centric approach to peace, often focuses on the economic and state building benefits, the ”Victor’s peace”, the institutional peace, the constitutional peace and the goal of state building (Richmond 2010, 2008; Rittberger and Fischer, 2008). Conventional approaches to peacebuilding are much less concerned with inclusion of nature or ecosystem services in peacebuilding. Environmental or ecological peacebuilding is also outside of the spotlights of mainstream media covering peace building initiatives. Therefore, in order to include nature in peace, there is a need for a paradigm shift from conventional peacebuilding principles to a more holistic approach. This is where we can find the concept of environmental peacebuilding (Carius, 2007; Conca and Dabelko, 2002).

Initially coined as environmental peacemaking, over the past twenty years, several research projects and inititatives developed an approach that takes the sharing of natural resources and environmental cooperation as a tool for conflict resolution (Waisová 2017; Conca and Dabelko, 2002) The concept of environmental peacebuilding is based on a more holistic approach to peacemaking; for this approach of peace building, there are no “war heroes”, there are “peace heroes” (Wessels, 2009).  Whilst liberal peace building and rational choice tend to ignore biological, psychological, cultural and sociological dimensions of violence and conflict, environmental peace building gives room for holistic and cognitive theories on the relationships between Humanity and Nature in a changing global ecosystem (Wessels, 2016).

Not only conventional peacebuilding needs a paradigm shift, but also conventional approaches towards ecosystems should change, as they fail to account how environmental peacebuilding could work in practice. In the conventional approach to ecosystems, within conservation sciences, places human beings outside of nature and views human activities as ”anthropogenic disturbances”. Human beings are seen as dominating species over other non-human living beings and the flora with an overwhelming negative effect on the natural environment. A less anthropocentric approach includes human beings as integral part of the ecosystem, applying the so-called Human Ecosystem Model to human-natural systems (Dalton, 2011; Wessels, 2008). In the Human Ecosystem approach, activities by human beings can have negative effects (war), also called anthropogenic disturbances on the natural environment, whilst at the same time there is the possibility that their activities can have positive effects (peace) and contribute to a sustainable and balance of the natural environment.

In this regard, it is interesting to look at anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ theories of culture. Geertz defined culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz, 1973). When local cultures, religions or ideologies of a particular society are heavily influenced by the worship of nature and the “dreamed-of order” of a “human ecological paradise”, there is a suggested tendency of members and religious leaders of that society to work together to reach that ecological paradise. This perceived human ecological paradise could form common ground between environmentalists and farmers sharing an ecosystem. Any destruction to that perceived ecological paradise is considered a threat and unites those opposed to this threat in their struggle to preserve the environment. This is the core principle of environmental and ecological peace building. Thick descriptions of specific case studies of ecological peace building provide then an insight in the human cognitive processes of environmental peace building (Wessels, 2016).

Our shared natural environment can thus form a positive incentive for enemies to cooperate to achieve the dreamed-of order of an ”ecological paradise” whereby human beings have the right to healthy and sustainable environment, of being at peace with nature, which constitutes a process of healing and the achievement of an, almost religious, “inner-peace”. Geertz’ symbolic anthropology, where the role of symbols in constructing culture and public meaning is emphasized, describes the “dreamed-of order” (Geertz, 1973). Ecological peacebuilding is thus like ”working towards paradise” based on the principle that a balanced human ecosystem with fair distribution of natural resources, leads to a societal and balanced  ”dreamed-of order” of peace, democracy and a sustainable natural environment.


Theories of environmental peacebuilding come from a variety of different disciplines within the social and biophysical sciences. I argue that in order to come to a comprehensive theory of environmental peacebuilding, there is a need to two paradigm shifts; 1) one in peace and conflict studies, from the liberal peacebuilding to a more holistic approach and 2) one in conservation sciences, from a conventional anthropocentric ecosystem approach to a Human Ecosystem approach, whereby human beings are integral part of the natural environment, linking the biophysical, terrestrial, physical, cultural and socio-economic components of the environment. The example of Wadi Fukin within the Jordan River Basin was taken as point in case for the potential of environmental peacebuilding. Combined with Geertz’ definition of culture as a ”dreamed-of order”, environmental peacebuilding in practice can be seen as working towards a shared vision of an ”ecological paradise”.

In the next part of this two-part series, I will illustrate how environmental peacebuilding works in practice in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt)


This blogpost is partly based on a bookchapter published earlier last year; Wessels, J.I. (2016) “Valleys of Hope and Despair; peace building through independent environmental documentaries” in Mediating Peace, Reconciliation through Visual Art, Music and Film by Sebastian Kim, Pauline Kollontai & Sue Yore (eds.), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK. ISBN (10): 1-4438-8371-9 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-8371-9.

About “nature” and “peace”


By: Maria Andrea Nardi

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.

Are humans part of nature, or separate from it? Photo taken in Cameroon by Maria Andrea Nardi.

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. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (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?

Iraqi Kurdistan has experienced a relatively peaceful period since 2003, but in recent years the situation has become less stable due to the nearby conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Photo by Lina Eklund.

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?


Call for Abstracts: The Nature of Peace session at AAG 2018

We welcome contributions to our session at the AAG Annual meeting in New Orleans, 10-14 April 2018!

Title: The Nature of Peace – links between the natural environment and post-conflict societies

Organizers: Torsten Krause, Andrea Nardi and Lina Eklund (Lund University)

Sponsors: The Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies

Please send abstract (max. 300 words) by October 25 to the following email addresses: &

With warm regards

Torsten, Andrea & Lina


Description of session: 

In a situation of armed conflict, environmental protection concerns are usually not high on the agenda. During conflict, natural resources are often extracted in an illegal and informal manner because of a lack of oversight from a weak state engaged in war or because of various groups (e.g., political or ethnic) battling for access to, and control over, resources and lands in order to enrich themselves and finance their activities. Conversely, notwithstanding the often-devastating social consequences, armed conflicts may also provide an unintended protection for ecosystems, such as forests (McNeely 2003, Burgess et al. 2015). This is largely due to the lack of infrastructure construction and other external investments in rural areas during the armed conflict because of security concerns (Sanchez-Cuervo and Aide 2013). In Sierra Leone, a country ravaged by civil war for many years, deforestation was substantially lower than in neighboring countries as a result of the armed conflict (Burgess et al. 2015). Similarly, Colombia has a relatively low deforestation rate compared to other countries in South America (FAO 2012). However, this odd form of protection can quickly disappear when armed conflicts end and make way for reconciliation and transition to peace.

This session proposes to scrutinize post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstructions processes that take place after the termination of an internal armed conflict. Particularly, the focus will be on the links between post-conflict developments and the effects on the natural environment, natural resources management, and, more broadly, environmental justice.

We seek contributions to the following questions:

How does a transition from armed conflict to peace impact the natural environment?

And what (negative and/or positive) consequences can these impacts have for various social groups?

Empirical evidence from around the world has shown that post-conflict reconstruction efforts often focus on the short-term and urgent needs of societies transitioning to peace. These processes, however, often fail to consider the root causes of the conflict and to integrate factors, such as the management of natural resources, that will contribute to a transition to durable peace and sustainable development (Krampe, 2016; Matthew, 2014). It is therefore of key importance to investigate if peace also brings environmental justice in the long term. For instance, the end of the civil war in Cambodia opened the doors for large-scale natural resources exploitation and infrastructure development, often at the indirect detriment of people who are dependent on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods (Le Billon 2000, Milne et al. 2015). Therefore, what is frequently framed as progress and development by governments and investors often leads to the exacerbation of environmental injustices (Bernstein 2001). In South Africa, an already water-scarce country, addressing the legacies of apartheid also involves tackling unequal access to natural resources such as land, water and electricity. In short, land restitution, social and environmental justice, go together during post-conflict situations.

Despite the above mentioned, there is a disconnection between natural resources management and the post-conflict/peacebuilding research communities. Not enough is known about when, how and why environmental factors can work for peace, and vice versa, how peace processes can contribute to environmental sustainability (Altpeter, 2016; Matthew, 2014).


  • Bernstein, S. (2001). The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism. New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Burgess, R., E. Miguel and C. Stanton (2015). “War and deforestation in Sierra Leone.” Environmental Research Letters 10(9).
  • FAO (2012). State of the World’s Forest 2012. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • Le Billon, P. (2000). “The political ecology of transition in Cambodia 1989-1999: War, peace and forest exploitation.” Development and Change31(4): 785-805.
  • McNeely, J. A. (2003). “Conserving forest biodiversity in times of violent conflict.” Oryx 37(2): 142-152.
  • Milne, S., P. Kimchoeun and M. Sullivan (2015). Shackled to nature? The post-conflict state and its symbiotic relationship with natural resources. Conservation and Development in Cambodia: Exploring frontiers of change in nature, state and society28-50.
  • Sanchez-Cuervo, A. M. and T. M. Aide (2013). “Consequences of the Armed Conflict, Forced Human Displacement, and Land Abandonment on Forest Cover Change in Colombia: A Multi-scaled Analysis.” Ecosystems 16(6): 1052-1070.