Presentation made by
Dr Patricia Kameri-Mbote

Environment & Conflict Linkages: An Overview


16-19 September 2004



Conceptual Framework

Environment-Conflict Linkages

Typology of Conflicts

Causes of Conflict

The Role of environment

Broader Context for Envt-Conflict Linkages

  • Primacy of environmental/natural resources in GL countries
    • Poverty & wealth linked to these resources
    • Land tenure/ natural resource management interface
    • Role of Policy & Law
  • Themes of Conference
    • Peace & Security
    • Democracy & Good Governance
    • Economic Development & Regional Integration
    • Humanitarian & Social issues

Concluding Remarks


Key Questions:

  1. Is environment as a factor in conflicts in the GL region?
  2. What is the role of environmental governance in conflict prevention & management?
    • Are there developed & effective values & norms to guide state-civil society relationships in use, control and management of environmental resources?
  3. What is the role of national, regional and international environmental institutions as carriers of governance norms in conflict prevention and management?
  4. What is the impact of conflict on the environment?
  5. Do we need environment-focussed tools for conflict prevention & management?
  6. Can the environment & envtl resources be used as a pathway to peace?

Conceptual Framework

Many conflicts are linked to natural resources (scarcity or abundance)

Studies carried out indicate that degradation/depletion of resources such as land, water, forests and fish contributes greatly to social turmoil

  • Environmental change raises 3 primary sources of scarcity of renewable resources
    1. Supply-induced scarcity (depletion/degradation related)
    2. Demand induced scarcity (pop increase/increased consumption)
    3. Structural scarcity (unequal distribution)

Interaction between supply, demand and structural scarcities

  1. Resource Capture: Powerful groups, anticipating shortages, shift resource distribution in their favour subjecting others to scarcity (Demand & supply scarcities leading to structural scarcities)
  2. E cological marginalization: Lack of access to resources caused by inequitable distribution forces populations to migrate to ecologically vulnerable areas (demand & structural scarcities leading to supply scarcities)

Environmental scarcities do not directly cause conflict

  • Intermediate effects lead to conflict e.g., disruption of institutions, limited/constrained access, constrained agricultural productivity, migration, social segmentation etc.

Environmental factors act as triggers, sustainers & sources of conflict

  • Trigger: Spark off & escalate violent conflict e.g.severe drought, a devastating flood or a volcanic eruption
  • Sustainer: Aggravate, perpetuate conflict, spoil opportunities for peace, undermine possibilities for communication
  • Sources:
    • Political, social, economic or ecological imbalances between different actors and groups
    • E.g. Land, forest resources, pasture
    • Lack of democratic legitimacy & good governance
    • Absence of opportunities for peaceful reconciliation of diverging needs and interests; and
    • Lack of an active and organized civil society (Weakened communities)

Environment-Conflict Linkages

Typology of conflict in Nature, parties

Causes of conflict

Role of environmental resources in conflict

  • Uneven distribution
  • Key resources/areas

Awareness of environment-conflict linkage?

  • Are there normative & institutional frameworks on conflict that take environment into account?

Environment-Conflict Linkages (2)


  1. Complexity of environment & conflict
  2. Visibility/Invisibility of envt-conflict linkages
  3. Envtl factors not alone in causing conflicts; interact with other intervening causal factors
  4. Environment as low politics & conflict high politics
  5. 5. Envtl scarcities weaken govtl instns by increasing society’s demands on govt and decreasing the capacity of govt to meet demands
  6. 6. Envtl scarcities make individuals/communities vulnerable
    • Poverty levels go up
  7. Contextual factors shaping & guiding envt
    • Ecological, economic, social, cultural and political e.g. markets, land & natural resource use systems & related structures
  8. Ecological changes advantage some and disadvantage others
  9. Role of environment in conflict complex & intertwined with broader contexts
  10. Impact of erosion of cultural/customary coping mechanisms
  11. Globalization as further complicating issue
    • Local conflicts with non-local actors
    • Non-local conflicts with local impacts
    • External factors may trigger local conflicts
    • Region’s marginal position in global fora exacerbates stress

International, regional & national conflict management policies & institutions (AU, IGAD etc)

  • Is environment included?

Scarcity & abundance of environmental resources (renewable & non-renewable) as conflict factors

  • Link to poverty

Key Environmental Issues:

Environment, Peace and Security

Environmental quality and sustainable natural resource management as precondition for peace and security in the GL Region

  • Environmental issues integral to conflict prevention and peace building
  • Improved equitable access to natural resources for all to avoid competition for natural resource control

Investment in improved management of environmental resources as a pathway to peace

Access to natural resources assured for all – Prevent inaccessibility thro’ depletion by some

Awareness that environmental impacts of armed conflicts impede post-conflict recovery and development

  • Environmental rehabilitation as a catalyst for lasting peace

Strengthened capacity for observation, early warning systems, assessments, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery

Key Environmental Issues:

Environment, Democracy & Good Governance

Political commitment to tenets of democracy and good governance as a critical factor in sustainable management of natural resources

  • Establishment of a political environment devoid of distrust, extremism and violence.

Investment in building cohesive communities in the interest of sustainable natural resource management particularly in critical ecosystems

Effective environmental governance structures at all levels

  • Envtl governance as facet of good governance (Rule of law in exercise of political power to manage a nation’s affairs)
  • Democratization & accountability in conduct of public affairs
  • Efficient, equitable & effective distribution of govtl goods & services among citizenry

Achieved thro’ laws & regulations

The conscious management of regime structures to enhance legitimacy of the public realm

  • Wildlife o/side PAs

Spheres of envtl governance

  • Local, Regional
  • National, International

Empowering citizenry to appreciate value of sustainable environmental management through procedural rights

  • Access to justice, right to information and public participation in environmental decision-making

Key Environmental Issues:

Environment, Economic development & Regional integration

Commitment to SD for states and individuals (MEAs provisions e.g. Rio Decl.; CBD)

Improved access to markets for goods and services taking environmental issues into account:

  • Use regional integration as platform to engender sustainable resource management (e.g. CITES, Lusaka Agreement)
  • Ingrain envt protocols regional integration agreements (implementation mechanisms)

Key Environmental Issues under Themes (7)
Build capacity of nationals to deal with negative impacts of regional integration

  • Marginalisation of locals by external actors in resource extraction and marketing

Create links between diff’t regional economic organzns in the GL Region with UNEP/ envtl institutions to foster SD Develop links between ministries dealing with defence, foreign affairs, trade and environment at national levels

Wealth creation to provide alternatives & avoid envtl stress

Key Environmental Issues:

Environment, Humanitarian & Social Issues

Impacts of envtl degradation on poverty & vice versa

  • Urban sprawl, over-harvesting resources etc

Recognizing the impact of refugees and internally displaced persons on the environment

  • The impact of external forced migration on the environment in the home country and the country of asylum.
  • Factoring environmental factors in decisions on establishment of refugee camps
    • Avoid exacting greater stress on already stressed environments
    • Ingrain sustainable management imperatives in refugee camps
    • Avoid exacting greater stress on already stressed environments
    • Ingrain sustainable management imperatives in management of refugee camps

Link post-conflict recovery to sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods, poverty reduction and sustainable peace

Rehabilitation of environment, including ecosystems and habitats damaged by impacts of forced migration

Rehabilitation of combatants including child soldiers to be accompanied by environmental education

Awareness of interplay between envtl resources & economic & subsistence activities of women (water; forests, role in agric etc)

  • Constrained/diminished access & abundance with multiple claimants during conflict
    • Relative power positioning of men & women

Empower women to sustainably manage environmental resources before, during and after conflict

  • Commitment to gender equality and equity
  • Ensure access to resources for women


Peace and security is predicated on addressing all causes of conflict

  • Must address all components to be tenable
    • Before, during & after

Security in many developing countries is a factor of internal relations

  • Regional/international approach to GL conflicts but state actors must co-opt participation of local actors to be successful
    • Principle of subsidiarity
  • Environmental resources come into sharp focus where countries very dependent on envtl resources for subsistence & economic activities
  • Relationship between individuals in countries & regions
    • Powerful/powerless
  • Poverty/environment interface
  • Security & envtl resources as public goods
    • Free rider problems calling for concerted efforts

Conclusion (2)

Informing premise:

  • "Our efforts must be seen in the larger context of our wide-ranging work to enhance human security in all its dimensions. “National security” and “national interests” can no longer be thought of in narrow terms, or as solely a question of military preparedness and might. Rather, our definition of security must encompass economic well-being, social justice, environmental protection, good governance and the rule of law" (UN Chronicle Spring 1997)

"Fierce competition for fresh water may well become a source of conflict and wars in the future"
Kofi Annan, March 2001

"But the water problems of our world need not only be a cause of tension, they can also be a catalyst for cooperation…If we work together, a secure and sustainable water future can be ours"
Kofi Annan, 2002