Environmental peacebuilding: Progressing as a planet and a people

Environmental peacebuilding: Progressing as a planet and a people
by Hollie ENNIS
25 October 2022

Activists came together to discuss the youth perspectives and the inherent links between the pressing global issues of climate change and peacebuilding. The webinar, hosted by the John and Pat Hume Foundation in partnership with INCORE Ulster Univeristy, Interpeace and International Fund for Ireland, marked the fifth seminar in the Youth, Peace and Security Leadership series. Brandon Hamber (Hume and O’Neill chair of Peace at INCORE) provided an opening statement explaining the purpose of the webinar to illuminate youth voices and perspectives. 

Danica Damplo, programme manager on youth, peace and security at Interpeace, chaired the discussion and outlined how the event served as an opportunity to highlight links between climate and peacebuilding strategies and initiatives within youth activism. 

Unfortunately, panellist Nireen Elsaim could not speak due to the internet being cut off by the Sudanese government in her local area. Solidarity was expressed with Elsaim by her fellow panellists. As noted by Damplo, her absence can provide fitting symbolism to the barriers affecting young people in their advocacy for climate and peace. 

Fellow panellist Rosalind Skillen is an environmentalist from Belfast, an outreach officer for local environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and a delegate at COP26. She opened the discussion with a definition — as the Environmental Peacebuilding Association outlines:

“Environmental peacebuilding integrates natural resources management in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict.”  

Skillen developed this point by placing it within an Irish context, calling for greater cross-border collaboration on climate issues, as “carbon emissions do not care about borders.” From experience working within cross-community gardens in the border communities, Skillen conveyed how the environment can provide common ground and act as a springboard for policy collaboration beyond the boundaries of identity politics, contributing to peacebuilding in the area. 

Anpupah Makoond, a data and programme analyst at the UN Peacebuilding Fund and author of Beneath the Wakashio Oil Spill, contributed an alternative perspective to the discussion. Makoond provided insight into what can occur if we do not take care of the environment and ignore youth activism. Through the example of her home state of Mauritius, Makoond used the example of how the peaceful state was overcome with civil protest and anger due to the government’s failure to react to prevent this ecological disaster: “We are a small island nation, and if our oceans are messed up, the future generations are over.” She stressed the need for greater youth inclusion in policy making — particularly regarding climate — and in turn this will promote peaceful relations across society. 

Damplo then steered the discussion to reflect upon points raised in a previous private seminar in which the panellist discussed the issues of youth engagement in climate and peacebuilding with a group of youth activists. Two young activists, Emma McKeever and Oilean Carter Stritch, joined the discussion. The panellists raised many notable points, informing the audience of the key barriers to youth advocacy in the climate and peacebuilding field. 

Audience engagement and reach were the first key issues commonly raised among the panellists. Skillen expressed the need to incorporate the creative and cultural sectors in environmental and peace advocacy, to increase how people can engage with the message of climate and peacebuilding. Stritch built upon this by referencing the need to relate issues of the environment to current political and economic problems, such as the immediate and interlinked nature of the cost of living crisis with the climate crisis. McKeever and Makoond raised the issue of distinctly labelling and categorising projects and how it can be more constructive to strip the message down to one of community and coexistence, so we can move forward as a planet and people. 

The second overarching issue was the current structures in place for youth advocacy and questioning if young people are content working within existing structures or demanding the creation of new systems for advocacy. Stritch and Skillen expressed a need for increased support and training for youth advocacy in the current systems, as unfamiliar protocols, formalities and acronyms at conferences and legislatures present barriers.  All panellists agreed that the message should remain the core focus instead of the communication method. Makoond stressed that the priority within advocacy should remain in the message and ensuring that positive change happens, rather than focussing on how it happens. 

Lastly, the panel discussed whether a gendered dynamic existed within climate advocacy, as the panel consisted of an all-female lineup. McKeever addressed the dominance of masculinity within policy spaces and how this often has shut female activists out of the board and policy rooms. Skillen argued that perspective is important to consider on this question as if one takes a top-down view, men in suits dominate the agenda. Yet from a bottom-up perspective, women are evident in grassroots leadership and engagement. 

This webinar provided an opportunity for young people to discuss the link between climate change and peacebuilding. The discussion was timely, with the announcement that the new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not attend the COP27 summit, despite promises to prioritise the environment. Perhaps if the British government had attended the webinar or listened to those who advocate, it would be in the best interest not only of the environment but also for peace. 

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