Press release

Conserving the Earth Can Keep the Peace, Save Lives

August 29, 2002

WINNIPEG — As the World Summit on Sustainable Development enters its final 48 hours the issues of environment and security will be front and centre.

A new publication by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the IUCN - World Conservation Union says that while wars between countries are increasingly unlikely, over three-quarters are fought within developing countries, by armed bands financing themselves with diamonds, drugs and illegal logging. The fatal blow for governments already weakened by economic downturn is increasingly environmental-from natural disaster or famine to rapid deforestation or toxic pollution-which deepens ethnic divides and sparks violence. In a series of case studies ranging from the role of land scarcity and population growth in densely populated Rwanda to the "war" between Canada and Spain over the Atlantic fisheries, "Conserving the Peace: Resources, Livelihoods and Security" examines how natural resource management is linked to social tension and conflict, and spells out the value of protecting the environment in addressing the roots of insecurity.

"The impact of today's wars is overwhelmingly felt by the poor," stressed Richard Matthew, security expert at the University of California and co-author of the report presented today. Pointing out that 15 of the world's 20 least-developed nations were torn by internal conflicts in the 1990s, he cautioned that unresolved conflicts can spill across borders and even onto the Main Streets of the world's financial centres, with global implications.

"Addressing the roots of conflict means safeguarding the critical resources which people need to survive and thrive," said Achim Steiner, Director General of IUCN - The World Conservation Union. "As much as 50 per cent of wood imported into Europe may come from illegal sources, much of which is harvested at gunpoint, with devastating impacts on traditional communities and on wildlife."

"Conserving the Peace: Resources, Livelihoods and Security," which can be accessed in its entirety here asks the question: is conflict on the rise because of mismanagement of the planet's natural resources? And if so, what can be done about it?

"Security is at the top of the political agenda, particularly with September 11th only a week away," observed David Runnalls, President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "The global community spent nearly US$30 billion on humanitarian assistance in the 1990s, an ever-increasing part of foreign aid. This trend is unsustainable. Our two years of research in this field shows that protecting critical natural systems can be a cheap investment in peace."

The world leaders attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which comes to a close on September 4th, are aiming to confront serious and growing threats to human well-being, from water scarcity to land degradation to biodiversity loss.

For example, every year land degradation and desertification cause an estimated $42 billion in damage and lost income, but the cost to prevent degradation would total only $2.4 billion a year, according to United Nations. Conservation action in different parts of the world has shown that these alarming trends can and should be reversed and that environmental health is key to long-term economic and political stability.

"The Johannesburg Summit promises the world a new comprehensive agenda that, by addressing all aspects of the development process at the same time, offers a realistic framework for lasting global security," noted Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, IUCN Patron, who addressed the delegates at the launch of the book at 5:30 p.m. at the IUCN Environment Centre Atrium.

About IISD

The IISD is an independent, not for profit corporation. Its mission is to champion innovation, enabling societies to live sustainably. Established in 1990 with continuing support from the governments of Canada and Manitoba, IISD also receives revenue from foundations and other private sector sources.

About IUCN

The IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), is an inter-disciplinary network of professionals advising on the environmental, economic, social and cultural factors that affect biological diversity in support of the Union's mission. The World Conservation Union was founded in 1948 and brings together states, government agencies and a wide range of NGOs in a unique worldwide partnership. As a Union, IUCN seeks to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.