ECC Platform Library


Ivory Becomes Bigger Issue and Environmental Peacebuilding Gains Ground at IUCN World Congress

25 October, 2016
Bethany N. Bella

A traditional conservation approach to climate change (e.g., habitat restoration, species protection) has been a primary tenet of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agenda for decades. But this fall at the quadrennial World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i there were new discussions about tackling climate change in the context of national security and environmental peacebuilding.

There has been discussion about environmental security and peacebuilding themes within IUCN for some time. In 1999, IUCN published a report examining the link between environment and security, in an attempt to “lay the foundation for a full and informed debate.” Climate change and international security resurfaced at a panel discussion at the 2008 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, while recommendations about transboundary protected area were introduced at the 2012 Congress in Jeju, South Korea.

“It is still a pretty small community that’s using [the phrase],” observed Todd Walters, the founder and executive director of International Peace Park Expeditions, at the Congress this past September. But “the concepts of environmental peacebuilding are embedded in a lot of the work – it’s just not being explicitly called ‘environmental peacebuilding,’ even though it conceptually is.”

There were sessions at the 10,000-delegate gathering of environmentalists, scientists, government officials, and members of the private sector with explicit environmental security themes, including one facilitated by Carl Bruch of the Environmental Law Institute on environmental protection in relation to armed conflict.

“From my perspective, there were a good number of relevant sessions,” Bruch said. “It was really exciting for me, as someone who has worked with IUCN for a number of years, [who has] been to three of these Congresses now, to see how much growth there has been.”

The potential to aid in improving stability after decades of conflict could be a huge breakthrough

A variety of perspectives were represented at Bruch’s session, including from the humanitarian, development, conservation and policy fields. “One of the challenges about environmental peacebuilding is that you’re not talking about just one audience,” Bruch said. The wide base of interests – from climate scientists to agriculture and mining specialists to the military – can make it difficult to form a consensus on environmental peacebuilding directives.

But the Congress was not deterred. The IUCN General Body approved a motion outlining its support for conservation and peacebuilding efforts to continue in biodiversity-rich Colombia (see Motion 105), where a fragile peace is under threat. The potential to aid in improving stability and democracy after decades of conflict could be a huge breakthrough for the legitimacy of environmental peacebuilding on a global scale.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a motion coming out of an international institution of like-bodies that is supporting environmental peacebuilding and not just conservation for conservation’s sake,” Walters said.

The Ivory Dilemma and Peace Parks

The consensus on how environmental peacebuilding should be addressed is far from clear, however. Motion 007, which calls for the closure of all domestic ivory markets, has major implications for environmental security and was met with considerable contention.

Last year’s National Geographic documentary and special issue on the “Warlords of Ivory” propelled the links between terrorism, national security, and the underground ivory trade into public discourse. Terrorist groups operating in Africa are now directly linked with the transportation of illegal elephant ivory to other African countries as well as East Asian consumer countries.  

In Hawai’i, voices from elephant rangeland nations, neighboring African countries, as well as elephant-and-ivory invested organizations and ministries were heard during a nearly two-hour debate of Motion 007 on the Congress floor.

A spokesperson from the Japanese Ministry of Environment, a consumer country, proposed elephant ivory markets should be “appropriately” regulated but not altogether banned. “We hope to draw your attention to the fact that there are several countries which have been successful in appropriately conserving African elephant populations with appropriate management,” the spokesman said. “We strongly insist that we have to take into account respective situations among different range and consumer states.”

Similarly, a representative from South Africa’s Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife argued, “we don’t have a problem managing our resources.”

A representative from Safari Club International Foundation, citing the Convention of Biological Diversity Article 3, acknowledged that “under international law, states have the sovereign right to exploit their own natural resources in pursuant with their own environmental policies, but they also bear the responsibility to ensure that those activities do not damage the environment of other nations. SCI Foundation firmly believes in the sovereignty of individual nations and that the regulation of domestic markets is a sovereignty issue.”

Ultimately, the original motion recommending closure of all domestic markets for elephant ivory – without “weakened” amendments suggested by some rangeland nations and Japan – prevailed in the majority vote, but not without controversy.

“The people who are getting the benefits from ivory right now are criminals and terrorists”

“This motion was tied directly to the linkage between poaching and wildlife crime and the financing of terrorism and destabilizing guerilla groups,” Walters said. It was the voices from members like the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority that decided the vote.

“The people who are getting the benefits from ivory right now are criminals and terrorists,” a Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson said. “Uganda has fought wars – the Lord’s Resistance Army, everybody knows that ivory is their major source of money – [and] people are killed. We have done DNA analysis of the source of ivory, and actually the countries that we’ve heard saying can control their markets, this ivory is actually coming from there. Nobody has been able to regulate this market, and we need to…act now.”

The Hawai’i Commitments, a summation of the motions and other issues raised at the Congress, recognize that the involvement of organized crime networks in the illegal ivory market “pose a threat to national and international security as well as to social and economic development.”

Peace parks also received some attention in Hawai’i. IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas was able to pass a motion supporting transboundary conservation efforts. “The text of that motion does a good job of highlighting some of the environmental peacebuilding components that go into transboundary conservation and asserts that there should be greater support for those types of initiatives – and that the IUCN itself, as a global institution, should be one of the leaders pushing that,” Walters said.

In addition, the World Commission on Protected Areas highlighted a report from the Transboundary Conservation Specialist Group for its contributions to the global environmental peacebuilding discussion. Updates to the IUCN Green List, a catalogue of all protected and conserved areas, were also available at the Congress.

There is still a balance to be struck in aligning member interests with the overarching IUCN commitment to conservation. But the opportunity to expand environmental peacebuilding concepts to a wider audience has contributed both short-term and long-term momentum in growing the international environmental peacebuilding community, said Bruch.

“We had a lot of people signing up for the environmental peacebuilding community in practice,” Bruch said. “Even beyond the use of the term ‘environmental peacebuilding,’ there was a lot of interest.”

The commitment from IUCN members to encourage environmental peacebuilding in Colombia, address wildlife trafficking, and support peace parks accelerates the dialogue on environment and security connections in this important conservation forum.






Tags Africa biodiversity climate change Colombia conflict conservation cooperation environment environmental peacemaking environmental security


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Environment & Migration

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Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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