The environment is no longer a “silent victim” of armed conflicts.
To mark the UN’s #EnvConflictDay 2020 CEOBS has worked with civil society partners on a joint report that argues that the time is right for an international mainstreaming agenda on the Environment, Peace and Security.
A question of priorities
The environment remains under-prioritised throughout the cycle of conflicts, and yet environmental quality is critical for sustaining human health and livelihoods, for the security and stability of societies, and in the functioning of the ecosystems upon which we all depend.
Conflicts bring with them new forms of environmental harm, or exacerbate pre-existing problems. Critically, they disrupt systems of environmental governance, ensuring that their impact lasts well beyond the cessation of hostilities.
We can no longer ignore what we can see
This much is clear from a new report Witnessing the environmental impacts of war, which has been published to mark 2020’s International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict – #EnvConflictDay. The report is a collaboration between Amnesty International, the Conflict and Environment Observatory, the Environmental Law Institute, Geneva Water Hub, the Global Green Institute, Norwegian People’s Aid, PAX, the Universidad Externado de Colombia and Zoï Environment Network.
Using case studies from Iraq, Syria, Colombia, Yemen, Ukraine, Laos DPR and Senegal, the report documents the often complex ways in which conflicts and insecurity create or compound environmental risks, or drive environmental change.
The UN’s #EnvConflictDay was established to help draw attention to the environment as a “silent victim of war”. As can be seen from the innovative research methodologies and depth of understanding in the report, civil society and international organisations are now capable of documenting and communicating the environmental dimensions of conflicts more effectively than ever before.
This means that the environment is no longer simply a silent victim and, because of its multiple and foundational roles as a determinant for human security, it can no longer be ignored. This new reality begs a fundamental question of the international community – how should it respond?
A new agenda on the Environment, Peace and Security
Tackling the systemic under-prioritisation of the environment in peace and security discourse and processes will require sustained and positive action from all stakeholders. This long overdue action will not happen spontaneously, instead it needs a vehicle. Just as gender mainstreaming has benefitted from the processes mobilised by UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, so the environment too requires a dedicated mainstreaming instrument.
A new Environment, Peace and Security agenda is urgently needed to ensure attention for the environment in the global peace and security discourse, to encourage transformative policymaking and to bring meaningful change to people and ecosystems in the world’s most fragile states.
Components of this agenda must include:
A recognition of the intrinsic relationship between the environment, peace and security, and the critical role that the environment plays throughout the cycle of conflicts.
Acknowledgement of the inextricable link between the protection of the environment and the protection of civilians.
A commitment to enhancing, adopting, implementing, and promoting compliance and accountability with the legal framework protecting the environment in relation to armed conflicts.
Effective and sustained measures to mainstream the environment in peace and security discourses, policymaking, peacebuilding, and recovery.
Support for the environmental data architecture necessary to inform effective decision making.
Engagement with and the inclusion of the communities, civil society groups and experts in fragile and conflict-affected states as equal and active stakeholders.
This #EnvConflictDay should be an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, but also an occasion to plan our next steps. How can states, international organisations, civil society, experts and communities collaborate to ensure that the environment gets the attention, and protection, it needs and deserves.