Since the early 1990s, access to environmental resources has been identified as a security issue. Tensions related to access to those resources have already contributed on several occasions to the development of inter-community conflicts. Consequently, the link between security, climate/ environment and development is a priority on the international agenda.
In this context, the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC RI) and Nomadéis, an independent consulting agency specialising in environment, sustainable development and international cooperation, have joined forces to explore together the new international challenges related to the governance of natural resources.
On 23rd June 2020, Nomadéis and DOC RI co-organised a webinar titled “Exploring the commons: How to tackle the triple challenge of security, development and preservation of natural resources, to prevent inter- community/ transboundary conflicts?” in order to challenge and discuss a joint policy brief aiming to explore how the Commons could renew cross-border and international cooperation in conflict prevention around environmental resources.
The webinar, co-moderated by Jean Christophe Bas and Cédric Baecher provided an opportunity for transdisciplinary dialogue, allowing the exploration of innovative governance schemes for the sustainable management of natural resources. It brought together a panel of influencers and experts from all over the world (India, Russia, Guinea, Chad, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Germany and France).
** List of participants **
|Jean-Christophe Bas||CEO of the DOC Research Institute|
|Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the DOC Research Institute|
|Suresh Prabhu||India’s Sherpa to the G20 and Former Indian Union Minister, Member of Parliament of India|
|Kabiné Komara||Former Prime Minister of Guinea, High Commissioner of the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River|
|Cédric Baecher||Co-founder and associate director of Nomadéis.|
|Stéphane Baudé||Projects Director at Nomadéis|
|Dr. Claude Béglé||Swiss entrepreneur and politician|
|Author and independent activist|
Hindou O. Ibrahim
|Environmental activist, Coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)|
Maj. Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch
|Director of the India Foundation|
|Stéphanie Leyronas||Researcher at the French Development Agency (AFD)|
|Prof. Franklyn Lisk||Development economist and political advisor|
|Prof. Chukwumerije Okereke||Professor of environment and development|
|Prof. Vladimir Popov||Senior researcher|
|Deputy Director of Expertise Publique France|
Dr. Prabhakar Ventaka Rama Krishna Sivapuram
|Research Manager & Senior Policy Researcher, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)|
Jean-Christophe Bas and Cédric Baecher introduced the webinar with a reminder of the context and the main objectives of the round table. Beyond consolidating and improving the policy brief in the light of the contributions and comments of the participants, this webinar constitutes an important step in the advocacy work that DOC RI and Nomadéis are jointly engaged in on the theme of Commons-based governance.
Stéphane Baudé, lead author of the policy brief, presented the brief “Commons and Common Good – What new paths of cooperation for reducing security and environmental risks?” He stated that the Commons have three main goals described in the paper:
- Ensuring resource access
- Managing resources
- Preventing and mitigating conflicts
However, the challenges faced in working towards these goals involve collaborating with public authorities and private agencies, overcoming transboundary conflicts (e.g. resources shared over national borders), and also transboundary ‘environmental peacebuilding’. The key lessons are for example that the state should consider local communities as active stewards of resources, not simply as users or hindrances. Also, local communities of users should be encouraged by states and international institutions to be involved in preventing and mitigating transboundary conflicts over natural resources through the development and management of transboundary commons.
Jean Christophe Bas mentioned that: “The event showed that the understanding on how to manage commons is very complex and there cannot be only one solution. There are different groups that need to be considered in having a dialogue to have a fairer, more reasonable and sustainable approach regarding commons. This was only the beginning of the discussion. The policy paper will be redrafted and then sent to international organisations.”
Expert participants from all over the globe were invited to comment and give feedback during the webinar.
Among them, Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu underlined that dialogue on all levels of cooperation (global, regional and sub-regional level) is the only way to avoid conflicts over resources. Resources are under the control of sovereign states but need to be managed by taking into account environmental security, as development cannot happen without resources.
Dr Prabhakar Ventaka Rama Krishna Sivapuram added that the key lies in how to decouple natural resources from development. Although he supports the idea of borderless initiatives, he considers them utopian as it is unclear how far it can address the exploitation of natural resources and would maybe even lead to increased overexploitation.
Kabiné Komara sees water as the most pressing resource for humankind and dialogue as an essential factor for international cooperation. He reported how the issue of managing communal water is critical for peace in several regions, specifically in Africa:
- he described the current (and future) critical clashes around the management of the waters of the Nile River (especially between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan), in the context of the recent construction of the Ethiopian “Renaissance” dam on the Blue Nile;
- he also emphasised that Guinea maintains control of the water source for seven neighbouring countries (the country hosts the source of many major West-African rivers: Senegal, Niger, Gambia, Koliba, Kolonte, Gavally, Diani, and Makona) and therefore has a great responsibility to manage its rivers well, not just to avoid conflict, but also to ensure that its neighbours have enough water.
- he then presented the OMVS actions around the Senegal River, as an example of a tool for cooperation (joint property, vetos on certain projects).
For all those examples, a joint approach is necessary to avoid conflicts around natural resources.
In view of the world summit of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) scheduled to take place from 15-28 October 2020, in Kunming, China, he mentioned that biodiversity could also be understood as a common good in the policy brief.
Generally speaking, he also insisted on anticipation in managing resources. He illustrated the dramatic consequences of the current lack of anticipation with the Syrian refugee crisis, which partly stems from poor management of natural resources.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, taking the example of Lake Chad, she explained how the borders resulting from colonisation in Africa do not fit with the prior local communities living around common resources (water, fisheries, lands, etc.): “There is a gap between a state’s belongings, based on administrative borders, and ‘natural identity’, based on being member of a community of common resource users”. On the contrary, most African natural resources fall under different jurisdictions. Consequently, in a context of climate change which places increased pressure on resources, this situation does not allow sustainable management of common resources and creates food insecurity. Indeed, local communities are not fully involved in the management of the natural resources on which their own survival is based. She thus advocates for the restoration of local community management power, as a long-term solution for peace. This solution must be applied at all scales:
- At the international level, development policies based on local communities should be developed, to respond precisely to their needs;
- At the national level, a reflection on the laws that govern the management of resources is necessary (especially land resources);
- At the local level, tools to manage natural resources in common must be developed for local communities depending on the same resources.
At the same time, Dr. Vladimir Yakunin mentioned that it is of high importance to understand the environmental implications of one country’s decisions on the environment of a neighbouring country, illustrating this with different conflicts over water resources in Central Asia (notably between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). He advocated for a universal approach of environment and natural resources, being convinced that it should be the basis for humanity’s unification. At the end of the discussion he referred to the last book of Jared Diamond (Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change), in which climate change is presented as “the first mutual killing enemy”.
Claude Béglé gave an overview on his political negotiations in different areas of the world. He notably presented the Swiss diplomatic program, Blue Peace in Central Asia, the objective of which was to facilitate an agreement between the former Soviet countries of the region around the management of the rivers’ water. Claude Béglé noted that “we tend to think of states as the ultimate authority on national issues, but the state does not always have the legitimacy we think it does. The people may recognise other entities (e.g. local non-state actors like FARC in Colombia or Boko Haram in West/Central Africa) as the legitimate authority in some situations, and a dialogue with these groups and their involvement in the solution is often needed as well”.
Another interesting and newly considered point is the involvement of big companies in the discussion of commons management, that Julien Serre brought in. According to him, large companies in Africa (holding relative power regarding resource use) are increasingly being regarded as competitors to international organisations like the EU in managing conflicts, in a context in which states are losing importance in mitigating issues. He also denounced the tendency of international donors to work in silos, based on old concepts of development aid policies, noting that “Commons could be an effective answer to those problems; they are likely to break silos”. Finally, he shared current discussions amongst major international donors around the need to no longer work at the administrative level of a state, but to be interested in development aid at the level of territories. It means the involvement of more stakeholders, at different levels, in an integrated approach.
Major General Dhruv C Katoch, reminded us that we are used to seeing the degradation of the environment, but we do not ask who the degraders are, which is all humanity. We pursue the advancement of the human race at the expense of every other human being and creature on earth and a major problem is the unsustainable population growth and resource use associated with it. According to General Katoch we need incentives and disincentives to push people to protect the environment. But Silke Helfrich, stated that managing commons is a matter of managing social relationships, not just focusing on resources themselves. It is difficult to think of collaboration on environment in capitalistic and nation-state-centric framework. Secondly, she recalled that the Commons are above all a mode of resource management (and not a resource as such). It is therefore essential to succeed in bringing together as many stakeholders as possible around common goods, to ensure good management. Finally, she promoted the idea of Commons-public partnership (as opposed to public-private partnership) as an innovative tool to manage natural resources in a sustainable way. And Vladimir Popov reminded us that we need a very basic starting point, and proposed new analytical tools to determine ‘fair’ use of resources for each country. He stressed the necessity to work on natural resource management and innovative methods and formula allowing countries with different levels of development to be brought together. This question particularly concerns the use of global Commons, including energy Commons. Prof Chukwumerije Okereke mentioned as well that, in order to ensure sustainable management of a resource, it is necessary to have a very deep knowledge of this resource, as in the case of the Lake Chad, the levels of which are higher than expected for unknown reasons. This knowledge must come from the “hard” sciences but also from the social sciences.
Furthermore, he put forward the need for experimentation as a way of managing natural resources. Indeed, the challenges of climate change are extremely uncertain, and their understanding is constantly evolving, which requires a certain amount of flexibility.
Dr. Prabhakar Ventaka Rama Krishna Sivapuram expressed concern that in the framework of international relations, the sovereignty of states is constantly invoked to justify the freedom of exploiting what are considered national natural resources. Yet, the consequences of this exploitation go way beyond the scope of national sovereignty. Even where cross-border common good management institutions exist, national logics persist and do not prevent local governments from pursuing their national interests alone: “the institutions that we have today are too much based on national sovereignty principles”. The notion of subsidiarity, developed within the European Union, could be one strong way forward. Finally, he insisted on the need to build international tools allowing an objective accounting of the good management of natural resources by states, for example at the UN level.
Finally, Prof. Franklyn Lisk asked that the policy brief focus on examples of cooperation and dialogue, integrating several stakeholders in managing natural resources (and not only on examples of conflicts). In line with this first remark, he advocated for innovative approaches developed in the field, with local knowledge: “any approach based on dialogue should emphasise the importance of other interest from the point of view of innovation”.
These diverse discussion points will be considered in the revision of the Policy Paper. More webinars and cooperation on Commons and Common Goods will follow in the near future.
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