Geoff Dabelko on Finding Common Ground Among Conservation, Development, and Security at the 2011 WWF Fuller Symposium

Mar 15, 2012


Bridging the divide between the conservation and security communities “requires that we check some stereotypes at the door,” said ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko at the World Wildlife Fund’s Conservation Forward: Ideas That Work and How Science Can Effect Change symposium. Changes in global climate, as well as environmental threats more local in origin, require us to “find ways to minimize threats [and] maximize opportunities...from the dialogue between these different communities – and get out of our silos to do that,” said Dabelko.

However, this dialogue faces real challenges and concrete trade-offs. “There are big imbalances in terms of the resources that these different communities have,” and this often cuts the conversation short, he said. The conservation and security communities are also orientated towards some very different objectives and toolsets. But “given the levels of stress that our natural systems are under, given the level of dysfunction that are political systems are exhibiting, to me, it suggests that it’s a call for all hands on deck,” asserted Dabelko. 

“The relationship between environment, natural resources, and violent conflict” is not the “only part of the story,” he said. Conservation goals can be achieved by preserving biodiversity on military sites and demilitarized zones, and through the Department of Defense’s new focus on reducing energy consumption. In the past, Russian-Norwegian-U.S. cooperation around de-commissioning Soviet-era nuclear submarines protected fragile Arctic habitats, prevented potentially dangerous technology from reaching world markets, and built confidence between recent adversaries. The dual potentials of “peace parks” in fragile and insecure borders across the Middle East have also garnered attention. 

Environmental Peacebuilding

“Too often…natural resources are viewed as luxury items – what you worry about once you get rich, democratic, and peaceful,” yet, the environment is an “essential ingredient” for peace, Dabelko said. It is often “key to restoring livelihoods and jump-starting the economy” in conflict affected countries. 

“Under a rubric or umbrella that we’re calling ‘environmental peacebuilding’ we have systematic efforts to…break those links with conflict,” he said. The future “concern is that because of environmental change, growth in population, growth in consumption,” and rampant inequities, climate change will act as a “threat multiplier.” “A risk analysis frame” is required to think through not only the risk of failing to act but also the risk of acting in ways that have the potential to create conflict if done poorly.

“We’re talking about changing access to resources and introducing money into uncertain political contexts – who gets it for what. That can be done well and that can be done poorly, and if you are talking to the folks in the conflict community, that’s often an inflection point for when conflict is a potential,” Dabelko said. In the context of potentially troublesome adaptations such as biofuel production, hydropower projects, and REDD+, this means taking seriously the well-worn, but apt, mantra of “do no harm” and working to maximize the “triple bottom line” of development, peace, and climate stability

A question and answer period, moderated by USAID’s Cynthia Gill, followed the presentation with fellow speakers Anne Salomon of Fraser University, Michael Jenkins of Forest Trends, and Martin Palmer from the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (available below).

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