Building peace in fragile and conflict-affected states is rarely if ever straightforward, and climate and environmental changes are exacerbating already complicated situations. It is increasingly evident that the interaction among social, political and ecological processes decisively shapes the post-conflict landscape.
The explicit inclusion of peace in Goal 16 of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, alongside social, economic, and ecological goals, further highlights the value of studying the opportunities of post-conflict natural resource management.
The UN Environment Strategy for environmental management in international peace operations states that procedures should aim “to seek a positive long-term legacy through the development of specific environment-related projects that may benefit societies and ecosystems over the long term.”
Addressing climate and environmental change, underdevelopment, and peacebuilding can go hand in hand. I tested whether the provision of environmental services helps in the facilitation of the peace process in Nepal after its civil war. Looking specifically at climate-sensitive small hydropower projects designed to bring electricity to rural villages, this research showed not only substantial socio-economic successes regarding empowerment for women, better access to education, and increased economic opportunities but an increase in community cohesion and strengthening of local governance structures. These results indicate that policies around climate change can play an important role in facilitating the growth of local institutions and addressing peoples’ vulnerability and fragility.
Similar dynamics and opportunities have been identified for instance in relation to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Prakash Kashwan shows in his recent book, Democracy in the Woods, that REDD+ forest policies can facilitate democratic institutions and reduce fragility, because these interventions might offer “mechanisms of intermediation” – that is, venues that help citizen groups, civil society organizations, and social movements engage in political and policy processes.
There is a need to acknowledge the complexity of the post-conflict landscape and advance the concept of environmental peacebuilding to realize the potential and the risks of natural resource management. To date, the environmental peacebuilding discourse has been preoccupied by the risks that natural resources play in post-conflict settings by potentially reigniting the conflict. Yet, as I have argued in a paper on food security and another on environmental cooperation versus resource risk, we need to put opportunity and peace back at the centre of environmental peace and conflict research and practice. In fragile states, we need to stress the opportunities and synergies that climate action offers to overcome fragility and improve people’s lives.