The Environment and Positive Peace

The environment is a critical consideration in understanding peace, as it can impact every pillar of Positive Peace.

The eight pillars of Positive Peace are empirically derived by the Institute for Economics and Peace as a framework that maps out what peaceful societies are made from. The pillars provide a road map for countries moving into higher levels of peace, and it provides a reflection of the characteristics that countries with high level of peace maintain well. The term “Positive Peace” refers to the presence of attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. Negative peace, on the other hand, is the absence of violence or the threat of violence.

Is the environment important to maintaining peace?

It is not undue to consider that the physical environment has a presence in the attitudes, institutions, and structures that underpin peaceful societies. In fact, the environment is a critical consideration in peacebuilding initiatives. The physical environment underpins the existing Positive Peace pillars in unique ways. Every community has a unique topography, climate, and economic use of their land and its resources.

Perhaps the pillar that the physical environment lends itself to most obviously is the Equal Distribution of Resources. This pillar measures how society distributes essential resources and opportunities – like water, education, health care, and food. A healthily maintained environment provides the opportunity for communities to benefit from these resources. Similarly, the Sound Business Environment pillar is relevant to the physical environment in terms of the way it is sanctioned, used/exploited, shared, or sold for fiscal purposes. Perhaps in some circumstances, especially in contexts of shared borders and in transnational trade, the upholding of Good Relations with Neighbours hinges on the division and use of the physical environment.

In ways not explicitly linked to the Positive Peace pillars, the attention to the physical environment can ensure that factors that can lead to conflict are avoided. For example, hazardous waste in water supplies can lead to poor health conditions. The ripple effect of wide-spread compromise to health is immediately realised in the stress on health care systems and on the impact on social and business networks. Therefore, when community leaders invest in environmental protection, they invest in a protection of their human capital.

The environment and conflict

The environment can play a unique role in igniting or worsening conflict. Conflicts sparked by ecological factors not only threaten Positive Peace, but might also make negative peace unachievable. The scarcity or isolation of water, the dumping of hazardous materials, or the destruction of natural resources are all examples of factors that might induce conflict. Forced migration, loss of livelihood, and poor health conditions are typical outcomes of such ecological deprivation.

The link between drought, poverty and violence can be most evidently seen in the Yemen, a country reliant on agriculture, which accounts for 17% of its total GDP. Yemen is one of the most water scarce countries in the world.

In an article on Vision of Humanity, the mounting evidence that climate change is creating the conditions to destabilise global peace is explored. Yemen is offered as a case study for the way water has been a weapon of terrorist organisations because of the agricultural collapse induced by the drought. Millions of people were desperate for food and water. Al Qaida gained popularity in the South of Yemen by building wells in local communities to increase membership. Thus, the land and its resources can become a monopoly board in conflict.

Healthy environment and Positive Peace

It is true that current eight pillars of Positive Peace relate more directly to social, political and economic factors that help in development of attitudes, institutions, and structures that sustain peaceful societies. It is also true that a large number of conflict can be traced to natural disaster, such as floods in Darfur. Additionally, in the future, we are likely to see disastrous effect of climate change with increasing frequency. In this context, accounting for environment as a factor in a peace index assumes importance.  However, environmental shocks usually graduate into political or economic problems before it manifests in society as a conflict. Since Positive Peace already accounts for social, political and economic factors, it is likely that environmental factors do make it to pillars of Positive Peace in an indirect manner. Accounting for environmental factors directly into Positive Peace would mean that environment might get accounted twice.

Vision of Humanity

Editorial Staff

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indexes, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.