Environmental Peacebuilding: a new way of building peace

Studies have shown that at least 40% of all intrastate armed conflicts over the past 65 years had natural resources as an important triggering factor. Although environmental factors are rarely the sole cause of violent conflicts, the scarcity and destruction of natural resources – especially when it affects water availability, fertile land or food security – aggravates existing tensions and may create new ones. One example is the ongoing conflict in Darfur. The fighting started as a dispute between herders and farmers over failing lands, after droughts shrank the extension of grazing land considerably. It has later been intensified by other motives, but the environmental stress was at the starting point.

Image by Marion Wunder. Pixabay

Other civil wars such as those in Syria and Yemen have also had their tensions linked to environmental changes. In Syria, before the war began, an intense drought caused 75% of Syria’s farms to fail and 85% of livestock to die, intensifying regional instability. Drought has also exacerbated conflict in Yemen by causing water shortages and food insecurity in the country. The millions of people facing famine and the catastrophic cholera crisis that has developed, along with the ongoing war, have contributed to what is being called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”[1]. The link between environmental degradation and conflict is clear: when the survival of groups of people are threatened because of lack of natural resources, the potential for violent conflict is much higher.

In the coming decades, as the global population continues to grow, disputes over natural resources and extreme climate stresses are expected to double the risk of violent conflict. A report by the Environmental Justice Foundation warns that climate change will likely reshape the environment in ways that may cause the largest refugee crisis in human history. The report has also found that “conflicts associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years” [2]

But more than a cause of concern, the environment can be a source of hope and a valuable peacebuilding tool. Many have pointed to the potential of environment to provide a platform of collaboration. Common environmental issues can encourage people to come together, in spite of their differences, and this can be used to foster cooperation and mutual trust between conflicting parties. There are many examples of successful environmental cooperation between nations who were hostile towards each other, such as the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan, and the Cordillera Condor, a conservation “peace park” in the border between Peru and Chile, where there used to be a long history of territorial conflict.  They prove that joint efforts to restore ecological systems can be the entry point to a more peaceful and collaborative political relationship.

Photo: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, Sept 2013. flickr.com/photos/eu_echo/10015500834

In post-conflict countries, where years of destruction and violence leave people struggling to survive, trying to rebuild sustainable livelihoods is extremely important, and it should involve efforts to restore the environment. Collaborative initiatives such as the ones mentioned above should be included as much as possible because they drive cooperation towards a common goal – preserving or restoring the environment – in ways that build trust and contribute to conflict prevention.

However, bringing together issues of environment, peace and security is a very new approach, and one that most are not used to and fail to understand. Environment is still usually associated with simply conservation of species or planting trees. There is an amusing true story that illustrates this well: when David Jansen, a leading figure in environmental peacebuilding, went to Afghanistan and the Democratic republic of Congo to address environmental challenges, his local hosts took him to the zoo [3]. This shows the amount of work still ahead and the challenges of environmental peacebuilding. Without better knowledge of the great potential the environment can have in promoting peace and preventing conflict, the international community may be missing a powerful tool, especially in the face of our future environmental challenges. This awareness needs to be better used if we are really committed to achieving long lasting sustainable peace for all.

Anelise Vaz

[1] Almosawa, S.; Hubbard, B.; Griggs, T. ’It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis. The New York Times, 23 August 2017.

[2] Environmental Justice Foundation. Beyond Borders: our changing climate – its role in conflict and displacement. Report: EJF, 02 November 2017.

3 Wilson Center Staff. A Paradigm for Peace: Celebrating “Environmental Peacemaking”. News Security Beat, 20 March 2018.

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Environmental Peacebuilding: a new way of building peace

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Editor’s Note: In the US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey released a resolution for a Green New Deal in February: a set of economic stimulus programs that aim to address climate change and economic inequality. The name refers to the New Deal, a set of public works projects undertaken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. The Green New Deal combines Roosevelt’s economic approach with solutions to the climate crisis such as renewable energy and resource efficiency.

The approach pushes for transitioning the US to 100% renewables and zero-emissions, and implementing the “social cost of carbon” that has been part of Obama administration’s plans for addressing climate change. Besides providing new jobs, this Green New Deal is aimed to address poverty by aiming improvements in “frontline and vulnerable communities” which include disadvantaged people.

By Samantha M., age 12, and Angelica Perkins, age 17

Samantha and Angelica write for PeaceVoice, are Oakland students and members of the youth-led climate justice group, Youth Vs. Apocalypse. To contact their adult advisor: carolyn@350bayarea.org

On Friday, February 22, 2019, Sunrise Bay Area, Youth Vs. Apocalypse and Earth Guardians Bay Area Crew gathered together for a rally held outside of Senator Feinstein’s office in San Francisco in an attempt to persuade her to vote yes on the Green New Deal.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash.

We attended the rally at Feinstein’s to show support and help in whatever ways we could as this movement is one that matters to us and our future– we hadn’t planned to talk with Feinstein directly. In spite of this, when the opportunity presented itself YVA and Earth Guardians accepted gladly and were more than excited when we learned that we would actually be allowed into her office to speak to her personally. For us at least, this excitement turned quickly into fear as our peers and Senator Feinstein began to converse.

This fear was not because we felt that we were being “Taught a lesson” or “Told off”. It was because we could see ourselves talking to our future grandchildren about what breathable air used to be like. We could see workers in impoverished communities whose children’s lives depended on risking their own. We were afraid because, at that moment, we could see the world around us shrinking – becoming something small and unimportant, and with it so did we.

However, we only felt this way. As we sit here and write this piece, we know that we are not small and we are definitely not unimportant. Our words speak for all youth, as we demand a future. And that future will only be possible through the Green New Deal. Because as we advocate for the Green New Deal, we are also advocating for the future of our Earth and all of its inhabitants. A promised future. The future we deserve. Because the adults that decide our future, got theirs. So who are they to cancel ours?

We are not fighting for the Green New Deal because we are brainwashed youth or because we are being manipulated and used for political gain. We fight for the Green New Deal because we are in charge of our future, and know exactly what it means. It lies in our hands, only ours. It is our future, whether or not elected officials like that and the only way to protect what belongs to us is through bold and transformative action.

We cannot separate ourselves from all the animals, plants and all other life because we are all interconnected. We are all affected by the destructive aftermath of climate change. Just because we are human, it does not negate the fact that we are also in danger because of our actions. We are in also in danger from inequality and lack of economic opportunity. We can’t leave behind anyone.

That is why we believe in the Green New Deal, and we know what the Green New Deal is. We have read it and we understand it because we know exactly what we have to do to secure our future. Youth have a right to be in this conversation because in the long run, this is more than a debate. It is our life and future.

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Green Economy or Green Grabbing?

By Hsiao-Wei Chen

In Mozambique, 19 percent of the country’s territory (15 million hectares) was under negotiation with a British company for its potential carbon stock that can be traded in the prevailing carbon markets. In Madagascar, the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena REDD project was investigated for restricting villagers from using the forest where they grew food and gained natural resources. In Liberia in 2008, a UK-based Carbon Harvesting Corporation was interested in buying 400,000 hectares of rainforest.

As global warming is increasing since Anthropocene, extreme weather and natural disasters can be seen in the very corner of the world. In some parts of the world, unusual weather is witnessed every few years. Areas where it is not supposed to rain in some time of the year are flooding and areas where it is not usually sunny are having droughts. The planetary-scale changes in the Earth system are believed to be the main reasons of climate change, and since human society is included in the Earth system, large scale changes in society can also lead to intense global change. The impact of climate change is becoming obvious for human beings and especially serious for other creatures. Animals are losing their habitats directly because of human activities, such as industrial pollution, logging, deforestation, or indirectly because of global warming and extreme weather, which are also results of human activities. It is not surprising that there is a great decrease in biodiversity. Furthermore, natural resources are also becoming scarce due to large-scale extracting and climate changing. Sustainable development therefore has become a critical goal for human society.

Green economy has been largely promoted since the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. There are three aspects of Sustainable Development: Economic, Environment, and Social. To promote sustainable development, green economy is proposed as a means to achieve a resilient economy that is environmentally friendly – “low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive”. The United Nations Environment Programme Green Economy Report in 2011 has emphasised the importance of fairness while applying green economy. “To be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognising global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.’’ Nevertheless, there is the dark side of green economy. Some scientists argue that green economy is creating green grabs and at the same time postponing real solutions for climate change. Green Grabbing was a term created by John Vidal, a Guardian journalist, and later used by James Fairhead, Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones in their article “Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature”. They suggested that ecosystems are put up for sale and that selling nature is no way to save it. Green grabbing can be just another form of land grabbing but legitimated by the claim of protecting the environment. Isn’t this another way of colonialism—and this time—eco-colonialism?

Conservation is getting easier, and even easier if you have money. Hundreds of trusts, charities, and individuals are buying beautiful mountains, forests, fields and lands to save it from destruction and encourage others to buy the environment too. It could be a whole acre of elephant corridor, 50 acres of the Amazon rainforest or 1000 acres of a woodland that is rich in carbon storage. These areas are bought to be protected areas, for instance, national parks or natural reserves. Sometimes they can be also explored for food or fuel that are “green”. In the developed world, these conservationists are fairly welcomed by the governments because they help them maintain or increase the market price of the land. But it is much more complicated than market price in most developing countries, especially in rural areas, where they are displacing indigenous people, who are marginalised from the nearby community, and even threatening the countries’ sovereignties. Such consequences are definitely not written on the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Click! I have just bought 10 sq cm of rainforest for a few pennies on the net. Click click! That’s 0.2 sq ft of Patagonia coastline saved from mining. Click click click! A friend has just given me as a present 1 sq m of the Palmyra atoll, wherever that is.” — John Vidal

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The Fear of Immigration and its Common Misconceptions

By Anelise Vaz

In late November, as the migrant caravan coming from Central America approached northern Mexico, the Trump administration announced they were prepared to send 15,000 troops to the US border, a number that would be roughly equivalent to the size of the US military’s presence in Afghanistan. The situation was portrayed as a national threat, an attempted invasion of violent criminals among which were – nonexistent – dangerous “unknown Middle Easterners”. The success of such fear mongering is just another sign of the fear of immigration that has been poisoning Western politics.

Unquestionably, every country is entitled to control the movement of people through its borders, but there is now a tendency to view immigration as something completely undesirable that should be avoided at all costs. There is an emerging national panic about the issue, and the victory of Trump, Brexit, and nationalists taking power in Italy, Hungary, Poland and Austria all confirm that. Advocates of liberal immigration are losing the debate, and that is partly because they need better arguments and policies and partly because of the massive public misperception about the issue. The logic behind the anti-immigration public discourse relies on the following assumptions: the government has lost control of the borders; immigrants will drain welfare systems; immigrants will undercut local workers; and the fear of being absorbed by alien cultures and manners.

Let us start the belief that there is a lack of control of the borders. Anyone who has ever tried to get a visa to the US or to the UK knows that the borders are very well controlled, and that there is a huge bureaucracy that makes it nearly impossible for anyone without exceptional skills or family ties to migrate legally to either country. As for the illegal option, it is even tougher, and the ones who risk such a venture suffer all the trade-offs involved, such as no access to many public services and the constant fear of being deported. This erroneous feeling that the borders are “out of control” can be largely attributed to the media. A Canadian study [1] has demonstrated that negative portrayals of immigrants in the press can dehumanize them and create a sense of a false social crisis. A similar report by the University of Oxford [2] has found that the portrayal of immigration in the news is largely negative, and “exacerbates” a level of uncertainty in public opinion around the issue in order to sell more papers. Politicians have also been widely and strategically using this uncertainty and fear in their favor. In fact, net migration in the UK is much lower than voters think. A survey conducted in 2016 by Ipsos [3] showed that the public believed that 15% of the population were non-UK EU nationals but the official number at that time was close to 5%. People also assumed that most international students remained in the country after graduating, but border checks have shown that 97% of them leave when their studies are completed. Many other opinion polls have consistently confirmed that the general public overestimate the percentage of foreigners living in the UK and have false assumptions about their impact in the economy.

The concept that immigrants cost taxpayer billions of pounds per year is pure speculations and has not been supported by official data. It is a highly debatable issue because establishing the fiscal impact of immigration is a challenge. The overall impact depends on the characteristics of individual immigrants and what they do. Young and skilled people are more likely to be working in highly-paid jobs and make a more positive net fiscal contribution to the economy and that can lead to assuming that some immigrants are “more desirable” than others. However, reports from OECD have estimated that households headed by immigrants in the UK pay more in taxes than they take in benefits [4], which means that immigrants are helping to reduce the budget deficit rather than worsening it. It is also a fact that most Western countries have ageing populations and need more migrants (and their children) to be able to sustain their economies.


As for immigrant “stealing” jobs, studies [5] have demonstrated that areas of the UK with large increase in EU immigration did not suffer falls in jobs and pay of UK-born workers. And although this is also very hard to establish, for the same reasons mentioned in the previous assumption, the same is probably true for all immigrants. Actually, many immigrants create new jobs and opportunities when they open businesses and increase general productivity and innovation in their areas. Besides, “jobs” is not a fixed resource that people can come and “take”. Actually, the more people there are in any economy, the more jobs will be created, because people need services and housing and businesses. Economy, markets and employment rates change because of a number of factors and blaming “immigrants” for unemployability is just as unreasonable as not acknowledging their positive contribution the economy.

In the matter of cultural objections, it is more difficult to address concerns because they are usually very personal and subjective. New-comers bring new colours and flavours to their host culture, and some will inevitably dislike it and fear that their own culture might swallowed by that of foreigners. However, the Oxford Report has also shown that people who live in places with large immigrant populations are far less likely to react negatively to immigration and to cultural differences. It is then safe to conclude that the more contact people have with “the different” the less afraid and resistant they become, and they learn to appreciate the cultural nuances that foreigners can bring into their culture while also noticing how their own culture is incorporated as immigrants adjust and integrate to the country.


The unreal fears of “an invasion of immigrants who are coming to take all the jobs and benefits and vanish our culture away” must be tackled not only with the facts above but also with empathy. Even in war-torn and impoverished places, it is very difficult to emigrate. People leave their homes, properties, friends and families reluctantly, abandoning their sense of belonging and the comfort of everything that is familiar to them. It is extremely difficult to relearn all the new codes of a culture, sometimes a new language, having to figure out how everything works in a new place. Some people also have to undercome extreme economic or physical duress and prejudice. Few immigrants feel completely “at home”, and this should be facilitated, if not for the many reasons in which they are valuable members of our society, for the sake of our shared humanity.

[1] Esses, V. Uncertainty, Threat, and the Role of the Media in Promoting the Dehumanization of Immigrants and Refugees. Journal of Social Issues, vol. 69, Issue 3, 2013. [2] The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. UK Public Opinion Toward Immigration: Overall Attitudes and level of Concern. 7 June 2018. [3] Ipsos Mori. The Perils of Perception and the EU. 9 June 2016. [4 ]OECD. The fiscal impact of immigration in OECD countries. International Migration Outlook.  [5] Wadsworth, J.et al. Brexit and the impact of immigration in the UK. Centre for economic performance. London School of Economics and Political Science, 2016.

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Feature Articles

The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre has organised Light Against Darkness: An Exhibition of Syrian Refugee Children’s Art which will take place at City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, Nicolson Square and Edinburgh University Chaplaincy, Bristo Square with a small selection at St John’s Church, Princes St 21 October – 12 November. Opening Hours  are: Monday – Friday. 10am – 3pm, Tuesdays 6 -8pm & at City Methodist only,  Saturday 1 November 10am – 3pm .

The exhibition comprises 166 paintings and drawings done by Syrian refugee children during a three month therapeutic workshop at Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.

LEBANON-SYRIA-CONFLICT-ART-EXHIBITIONThe joy of light… in the face of darkness! 

Children and teenagers in the flower of youth have been forced to leave their homes, and the places they knew and loved under showers of relentless bombardment. The smell of death and destruction has filled all parts of their country where raging infernos are destroying their schools and childhood playgrounds.

This is the group targeted by “Tomorrow is Ours Center” as part of the “Najda Now” psychological support project – Syrian refugee children living in Shatila camp in Lebanon where Palestinian refugees receive their Syrian refugee brothers and sisters.

Lebanon-kids-paintings-650_416Violence, fear and murder have drawn these innocent souls in to darkness, the terrifying things they have seen, perhaps involving relatives or friends, causing deep psychological wounds. “Tomorrow is Ours” aims to extend a loving hand to these children and plant the seeds of hope. Perhaps the psychological support programs provided by the center can help bring
these children out of the darkness and in to the light; put smiles back to their sad faces, and wipe away the tears from their troubled eyes. One of these programs was the drawing course which continued for three full months, under the supervision of the artists Oruba Deeb, and Nour Shantoot.

The two artists brought happiness, warmth and friendship to the souls of
these gentle young children and worked towards halting the destruction, violence and despair that have filled their lives.

Darkness to light 4 (1)The result is these wonderful pictures which have begun to remove the black shades and terrifying images from these children’s memories… taking them gradually to the colors of happiness and joy… the colours of the rainbow… the colors of their childhood that was violated using the most vicious means. With the help of the color palette and the paper that was put in the children’s hands, their small fingertips began to play across pages as pure and white as their hearts.

The result was a festival of colors and enticing images representing distant homes… forgotten trees and schools, and the beloved faces of the departed.

2While the pictures show a memory filled with grief, an inner light seems to shine out from in between the children’s fingers, clothing their faces with joy and happiness in a darkened world.

The French Embassy in Beirut held an exhibition of the children’s pictures in the Embassy’s exhibition hall in December 2013. The children and their families were present at the opening ceremony.

A book called “Light Against Darkness” which contains the children’s pictures and some of their wishes and thoughts will be available for sale at the Peace and Justice Centre and at the various venues where the paintings will be exhibited.

Darkness to light 1 (1)The Children’s War Museum presents children’s experience of war from across the world through their own voices and creativity. Our first exhibition of children’s art has been visiting schools around the country with the support of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

We would like to thank the Church of Scotland, City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, Greyfriars Kirk, St John’s Church, Edinburgh University Chaplaincy and Nadja Now Lebanon for helping us to bring the Syrian children’s story to Scotland.

Brian Devlin and Najda Now


“..My father went without food for days because there wasn’t enough. I
remember watching him tie his stomach with a rope so he wouldn’t feel so
Ala’a. 10 years old.
“..In my village there was a demonstration. Some children were there. As a
punishment, armed men went to the school. They selected 50 children at random in the classrooms, from grades 1 to 7. They took them out of the school and tore out their fingernails. Many of these children were 6 years old, just 6. People in the village were trying everything to get their children back, but we had no weapons, so we could do nothing. I don’t know where they are now. I left soon after that happened.”
Mohammad. 17 years old.

“..after 2 days I was taken out of the room to be interrogated. I was extremely weak. They hung me up from the ceiling by my wrists off the ground, then I was beaten. They wanted us to speak, to confess to something.  I passed out from the severe pain of hanging like that, and from the beating. They took me down and threw cold water on my face to wake me up. Then they took turns stubbing out their cigarettes on me. Here I have these scars.”
Khalid. 15 years old.

“..Once I was arrested along with hundreds of other people. They separated out the children and I was the oldest at 16. We were forced into a small cell together – there wasn’t even a toilet, just a hole in the floor. There was a group of small children with us whose parents were “wanted.” There were perhaps 13 children. They weren’t allowed food or water. When it was time for us to eat, their group was surrounded by armed men who stopped anyone giving them food. These children were too weak to even cry. They just lay on the floor. They were also subjected to repeated beatings with sticks, worse than us. I knew a boy called Ala’a. He was part of that group. He was only 6 years old. He didn’t understand what was happening. His dad was told that his child would die unless he gave himself up. I’d say that this 6 year old boy was tortured more than anyone else in that room. He wasn’t given food or water for 3 days and he was so weak he used to faint all the time. He was beaten regularly. I watched him die. He only survived for 3 days and then he simply died. He was terrified all the time. They treated his body as though he was a dog.”
Wael. 16 years old.

from Save the Children: Voices of Syrian Children.

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