From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment


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Publication Title

From Conflict to Peacebuilding - The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment

Publication Type

UNEP Report


Joint product of UNEP and the Expert Advisory Group, this paper was co-authored by Richard Matthew of the University of California, Irvine, Oli Brown of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and David Jensen of UNEP’s Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch (PCDMB).

Editor - Silja Halle

Publication Date

February 2009


ISBN: 978-92-807-2957-3

Publication URL


United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552 Nairobi, Kenya
Tel +254 (0)20 762 1234 Fax +254 (0)20 762 3927
Email - Website -



Since 1990 at least eighteen violent conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources. In fact, recent research suggests that over the last sixty years at least forty percent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources. Civil wars such as those in Liberia,Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo have centred on “high-value” resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil. Other conflicts, including those in Darfur and the Middle East, have involved control of scarce resources such as fertile land and water.

As the global population continues to rise, and the demand for resources continues to grow, there is significant potential for conflicts over natural resources to intensify in the coming decades. In addition, the potential consequences of climate change for water availability, food security, prevalence of disease, coastal boundaries, and population distribution may aggravate existing tensions and generate new conflicts.

Environmental factors are rarely, if ever, the sole cause of violent conflict. Ethnicity, adverse economic conditions, low levels of international trade and conflict in neighbouring countries are all significant drivers of violence. However, the exploitation of natural resources and related environmental stresses can be implicated in all phases of the conflict cycle, from contributing to the outbreak and perpetuation of violence to undermining prospects for peace. In addition, the environment can itself fall victim to conflict, as direct and indirect environmental damage, coupled with the collapse of institutions, can lead to environmental risks that threaten people’s health, livelihoods and security.

Because the way that natural resources and the environment are governed has a determining influence on peace and security, these issues can also contribute to a relapse into conflict if they are not properly managed in post-conflict situations. Indeed, preliminary findings from a retrospective analysis of intrastate conflicts over the past sixty years indicate that conflicts associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years. Nevertheless, fewer than a quarter of peace negotiations aiming to resolve conflicts linked to natural resources have addressed resource management mechanisms.

The recognition that environmental issues can contribute to violent conflict underscores their potential significance as pathways for cooperation, transformation and the consolidation of peace in war-torn societies. Natural resources and the environment can contribute to peacebuilding through economic development and the generation of employment, while cooperation over the management of shared natural resources provides new opportunities for peacebuilding. These factors, however, must be taken into consideration from the outset. Indeed, deferred action or poor choices made early on are easily “locked in,” establishing unsustainable trajectories of recovery that can undermine the fragile foundations of peace.


Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - The role of natural resources and environment in conflict
Chapter 3 - Impacts of conflict on natural resources and the environment
Chapter 4 - The role of natural resources and environment in peacebuilding
Chapter 5 - Conclusions and policy recommendations


See also

External Resources


 Pcdmb policy 01.pdf

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