The White Paper on the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding

The White Paper on the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding
Art by Samuel Kambari (Rwanda | Uganda)

The White Paper on the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding

The White Paper on the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding aims to deliver a strong, cogent message about the relevance, evidence, and promise of environmental peacebuilding to the Stockholm+50 forum in June 2022.

The term ‘White Paper’ is typically used in government circles to denote a publicly available, balanced document designed to help readers make decisions. This white paper seeks to encourage debate and discussion over the challenges, opportunities, and possibilities for environmental peacebuilding in conflict-affected states and societies. The paper and compendium are the product of a global conversation about the future of environmental peacebuilding and they draw from extensive academic work and practical experience.

This white paper is inspired by many voices. Though concise, the white paper hopes to emphasize the growing assortment of approaches, ideas and visions for the future of environmental peacebuilding.

The white paper is divided into four parts. The first gathers perspectives on the global context of environmental peacebuilding. The second points to some of the key challenges to environmental peacebuilding practice, while part three highlights important opportunities to harness the environment for peace. The fourth presents an agenda for the future of environmental peacebuilding.

Below, the executive summary excerpted. Read the entire paper by downloading the PDF below.

1. The Global Context of Environmental Peacebuilding

  • Over the last five or so decades, the many links between the environment and our security have become a focus for political attention and academic research.
  • With the end of the Cold War, some commentators were heralding the hopeful arrival of a ‘new world order’.
  • However, a new world ‘disorder’ soon emerged, which triggered an urgent search to better understand the root causes of violent conflict.
  • Environmental change and the poor management of resources increase the risks of conflict, especially in places already fractured by socioeconomic inequality, ethnic divisions, or ideological divides.
  • The trade in conflict resources such as illegal timber, blood diamonds, and conflict minerals finances violence and encourages instability.
  • The scale and cascading impacts of climate change mean it is increasingly being recognized as a security issue.
  • Meanwhile, the environmental damage caused by war amplifies the human toll and complicates post-conflict recovery.
  • Civil wars with a strong resource or environmental dimension tend to be harder to resolve and more likely to slip back into violence.
  • Environmental issues can provide a platform for dialogue and a reason for cooperation that can help to resolve differences among communities.
  • The greater appreciation of the role of environmental degradation, climate change and natural resource management in violent conflict has real impacts on peacebuilding policy and practice.

2. Challenges for Environmental Peacebuilding

  • While there has been general acceptance at a political level of the intuitive links between environment and violent conflict, actual action on environmental peacebuilding has rarely matched the rhetoric.
  • Framing environmental issues in terms of their potential to trigger or sustain violent conflict can lead to the environment being seen as a security threat with the risk of serious, unintended consequences.
  • Some environmental peacebuilding analyses have been criticized for being conceptually and methodologically sloppy.
  • This may have resulted in a tendency for environmental peacebuilders to underestimate the ability of human societies to adapt to changing situations.
  • Organizations active in, and setting the agenda for, environmental peacebuilding show little geographic or sectoral diversity.
  • The field of environmental peacebuilding still tends to see women, Indigenous Peoples, youth and other marginalized groups as passive targets for aid rather than as change-makers and knowledge-holders in their own right.

3. Opportunities for Environmental Peacebuilding

  • Environmental peacebuilding has risen in prominence as its importance has been documented by a growing body of experience and evidence.
  • Environmental peacebuilders are starting to have access to the necessary experience, technology, and data to be proactive rather than reactive.
  • New legal processes are changing the landscape for environmental peacebuilding.
  • There is a growing diversity of ideas and actors in the environmental peacebuilding field.
  • There is a willingness to work together to innovate and learn.
  • If managed carefully, there are ways to engage business actors constructively in environmental peacebuilding.
  • A series of landmark events in 2022 are opportunities to galvanize the environmental peacebuilding movement: to share ideas and to accelerate action.

4. An Agenda for Environmental Peacebuilding

  • Shift the mindset of the environmental peacebuilding community towards greater inclusivity and self-awareness.
  • Implement and encourage more bottom-up, community-based approaches.
  • Advocate for leadership that provides the necessary political space, funding, and entry points for environmental peacebuilding.
  • Embed environmental peacebuilding in policy frameworks at all scales.
  • Push for the implementation of robust, binding international frameworks to hold states, armed groups, and companies to account for environmental damage during conflict.
  • Anticipate and respond to environmental and natural resource-related tensions before they break down into violent conflict.
  • Continue to build and share the evidence base for environmental peacebuilding.
  • Bridge silos and operate in a peace-positive and a nature-positive way.

We know that the human species is already in conflict with the natural world—a conflict in which we can only be victims, not victors. Experience shows that it is no longer simply desirable that peacebuilding interventions integrate environmental threats; it is now absolutely imperative that we mainstream integrated, effective, and sustainable environmental peacebuilding policy and practice to secure lasting peace for the future of our planet.

With often similar root causes—including weak or corrupt institutions, discrimination, inequality, poverty, marginalization, over-exploitation—the converging crises of conflict and environmental degradation can be mutually reinforcing, with climate impacts potentially exacerbating the conflict cycle and violence weakening the institutions needed to build resilience.

Environmental peacebuilding can help us ensure a future that is more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable for people and planet.


Disclaimer: The White Paper on the Future of Environmental Peacebuilding is a collaborative project guided by the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, PeaceNexus Foundation, Environmental Peacebuilding Association, Environmental Law Institute, and International Union for Conservation of Nature, and written by our Associate Fellow with our Global Fellowship Initiative, Oli Brown and Giuliana Nicolucci-Altman. It is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese here:

The views, information and opinions expressed in the written publications are the contributors own and do not necessarily reflect those shared by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy or its employees. The GCSP is not responsible for and may not always verify the accuracy of the information contained in the written publications submitted by a writer.