Author: Adan E. Suazo, National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago
Adan E. Suazo is a doctoral researcher at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (University of Otago), and Associate Member of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre (Concordia University).
Adan’s work focuses on the integration of environmental considerations in the study and implementation of peace processes.
Norway’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment recently put forth a recommendation to the Norwegian Parliament in favour of a ban on products that may have contributed to deforestation in their countries of origin. The recommendation comes at a time when the Norwegian government is already investing substantially on conservation efforts in a number of key jurisdictions. While this recommendation signifies an important step forward in relation to the healthsome management of forests, and overall biodiversity conservation efforts, it also has significant repercussions for the establishment of sustainable systems of peace.
Forests are important units of analysis to consider in the context of peace and conflict research, for within their systemic confines one may find the sustainment potential for war and peace alike. Forests provide food, water, shelter and important ecosystem services to communities worldwide, which amount to an estimated 1.6 billion people. They are also home to crucial flora and fauna, which together contribute to the continuation of natural nitrogen and hydrological cycles, themselves essential for the sustainment of human life. Through the responsible management of forests, peaceful coexistence can be attained for the populations inhabiting their vicinities.
Unfortunately, however, the qualitative and quantitative integrity of forests may become compromised for the sake of prolonging the duration of war efforts, and/or deepening their effects. This misguided use of forest resources has been most evident in intra-state armed struggles. While conflict diamonds have traditionally taken analytical predominance due to their revenue-generating ability, the illegal trafficking of timber has also contributed dramatically with supporting rebel military activities in civil wars such as Liberia’s. It has been similarly documented that Cambodia’s forest cover decreased from 75% during the early 70s to 35% in the mid-90s due to illegal logging activities put forth by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge.
The wholeness of forest systems are similarly affected by the deroulement of military campaigns, where forests that exist within the jurisdictional authority of an adversary may become direct military targets or bystander victims of the movement of infantry and use of weaponry. For example, Ecuador and Peru inflicted substantial damage to rainforest systems during their armed struggle over the disputed Condor mountain range in the mid 90s. Likewise, the United States’ use of roman ploughs in South Vietnam resulted in the destruction of an estimated 325,000 hectares of forests. Whether the degradation of forest resources is caused by the direct or indirect effects of war, the long-term implications of their devastation are vast, and carry forth negative consequences for human systems and processes.
Norway’s ban on deforestation arguably presents itself as a policy bridge that effectively provides practical significance to already-existing normative principles of environmental conservation, including initiatives such as REDD+. Its importance however transcends the realms of conservation, and effectively amalgamates key environmental and human dimensions of existence that in turn, bear important implications for peace.
Overall, the ban helps in three ways: it defeats the antiquated view that strong economic performance and environmental health are unrelated processes whose effectiveness and stability come at the expense of the other. This is a side effect of what the academic community is currently coining “eco-apartheid”, whose effects include a conceptual segregation between human-made institutions and the natural environment. Secondly, and as specified above, it supports and solidifies the implementation of international normative principles of environmental conservation. Finally, it helps in preserving our institutional ability to maintain a favourable renewable resource supply and demand balance. This is especially crucial at a point in our collective existence when dwindling volumes of renewable resources are becoming less capable of meeting the increasing demand structures imposed by forces such as population growth, urbanization and globalization, a resource imbalance that could exacerbate pre-existing economic, social and political conditions, which may in turn lead to increased instances of violence.
Simply put: by preventing the indiscriminate destruction of forests, one is also preventing the generation of human-induced renewable resource scarcity, and contributing to the regeneration of our institutional ability to alter the natural resource supply and demand balance in favour of peaceful coexistence.