With over 40 per cent of intra-State warfare tied to the exploitation of natural resources, peacemaking efforts must focus more sharply on environmental factors, according to a report launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP).
“From Conflict to Peacebuilding – The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment” was launched as UNEP's Governing Council wrapped up in Nairobi, Kenya, with agreements on an environmental assessment in Gaza and an international treaty on mercury pollution.
The report on conflicts, analyzing 14 case studies including Afghanistan, Darfur, Sierra Leone and Liberia, says that no less that 18 violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources since 1990.
It also shows that, even though conflicts with a link to natural resources are twice as likely to relapse within the first five years, fewer than 25 per cent of relevant peace agreements address the issue.
Conflicts over natural resources could only intensify in the coming decades as the global population continues to rise, demand for resources continues to grow and such factors as climate change increase the likelihood of drought and food shortages.
In consequence, the report urges a more robust and comprehensive inclusion of environmental issues in UN peacebuilding and early-warning activities, and a more careful harnessing of natural resources for economic recovery, essential services and sustainable livelihoods.
In regard to mercury pollution, more than 140 countries at the UNEP Governing Council unanimously agreed to launch negotiations on an international treaty, setting the stage “for the lifting of a major health threat from the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” UNEP said in a press release.
While the treaty is being finalized, governments agreed to step up action on a voluntary Global Mercury Partnership, which would pursue greater storage capacity for stockpiled mercury and a reduction of its use in thermometers and other products.
“I believe this will be a major confidence-building boost for not only the chemicals and health agenda but right across the environmental challenges of our time – from biodiversity loss to climate change,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.
UNEP says that around 6,000 tonnes of mercury enter the environment annually into the atmosphere or released down river systems, travelling hundreds and thousands of miles and, as a result, everyone alive today has some level of the poison in their bodies.
Among other agreements reached during the Governing Council's session, which took place from 16 to 20 February, environment ministers backed a request to UNEP to spearhead an environmental assessment mission to Gaza to assess the impact of recent hostilities.
In addition, they agreed to form a group to improve the way the world's environmental architecture is run, and decided to hold an international meeting on biodiversity loss later this year.