Environmental Diplomacy and Peacekeeping through Peace Parks

by Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001) | Instructor at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Ukraine (in Canada)

According to the Global Peace Index 2016, the world became less peaceful and more unequal. The International Crisis Group sounds the alarm to prevent deadly conflicts. The consequences of inaction are too complex: at least 70 conflicts involve non-state actors, a historic high; over 65 million people are now displaced due to conflict and persecution; the past five years have seen worsening trends across conflict indicators: more wars, more people killed and civilians increasingly targeted.

It came as no surprise that the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres pledged to make 2017 a year for peace: “Let us resolve to put peace first. Let us make 2017 a year in which we all – citizens, governments, leaders – strive to overcome our differences. From solidarity and compassion in our daily lives, to dialogue and respect across political divides… From ceasefires on the battlefield, to compromise at the negotiating table to reach political solutions…Peace must be our goal and our guide.”

I am helping with the Peace and Biodiversity Dialogue Initiative (PBDI) at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity administered by the United Nations Environment Programme working in Montreal. The PBDI promotes transboundary cooperation in protected areas globally. Through the PBDI, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity can share knowledge and best practices in transboundary cooperation. They may also wish to strengthen existing cooperation mechanisms or develop new ones with the facilitation of the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat and many partners with expertise in this regard. The Republic of Korea, as President of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention Biological Diversity, launched the PBDI in 2015 as a potential solution to global concern about conflict areas. The initiative also strives to gain support for and raise awareness of the Korean Demilitarized Zone Ecology and Peace Park, which is targeted for strengthening international cooperation for protected border areas.

Many experts value Peace Parks' creation as a form of environmental diplomacy that is gaining prominence. Peace Parks are transboundary protected areas (TBPAs) that are formally dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and to the promotion of peace and co-operation. TBPAs, transboundary conservation landscapes, and peace parks refer to relatively large areas of land (and other natural systems), crossing international borders between two or more countries. Peace parks allow shared sovereignty of the environment because it is based on science and can be de-politicised, can set the scene for other forms of cooperation in trickier areas such as competition for natural resources, environmental security or tackling environmental crime. 

Environmental diplomacy is drawing together agencies from the environmental, human rights and peacebuilding spheres of the UN. At the same time, there is so much to be done on the interpretation, promotion, and application of the Peace Parks’ concept as a part of these peacebuilding processes that it would be difficult for institutions working in isolation to succeed. The PBDI is being developed to play such a catalytic role and promote Peace Parks further. The PBDI is committed to broadening the range of collaborating organizations in support of Peace Parks' creation and develop a strong potential for conflict resolutions.

I have a dream that the PBDI and many other projects could also contribute to a peaceful development between Russia and Ukraine. People in the world still know very little about a conflict and a humanitarian crisis affecting 2 million of the internally displaced Ukrainians like my mom and my younger brother. Unfortunately, my dad will never see our home town Debaltseve again as he suddenly passed away in February 2016. The transboundary region of Donbass where I grow up has great nature and should become a new peace park. 

I hope that I can be a part of a peacemaking process. PBDI invites countries where there is ongoing conflict to the small workshops, and if needed organizes the workshop, to facilitate interaction in a neutral country location. If you interested to learn more about PBDI, please visit the website at http://www.cbd.int/peace.