Environment & Climate
Our research is increasingly focusing on the nexus between environmental issues, climate change, and conflict. We are exploring how mediation can address natural resource disputes and the potential of managing the impacts of climate change through peace processes.
Peace agreements address various environmental issues, including natural disasters, sustainability, food security, environmental degradation and restoration, conservation, ecological tourism and education, wildlife protection, bio-security, deforestation, watercourses, and climate change. Ten percent (10%) of global peace agreements from 1990-2022 include provisions relating to the environment, and ten percent (10%) of agreements relate specifically to water rights and/or access (PA-X Version 6, 2022).
In recent years, a small number of peace processes have recognised the issue and impacts of climate change, through peace agreement provisions that explicitly reference climate change. These include commitments to prepare to mitigate risks caused by climate change, introducing legislation in line with the Paris Agreement, supporting hydropower development, mainstreaming climate change issues in policy, and acknowledging the impact of climate change on desertification in conflict between farmers and pastoralists (PA-X Version 6, 2022).
Within PeaceRep’s environmental work there has been a research focus on transboundary water disputes between countries. Transboundary water disputes are deeply interdisciplinary, because they require holistic considerations, which are not only rooted in international rules and principles of water allocation and uses, but also in domestic and community or cultural concerns (Daza-Clark, 2022).
Water disputes may arise out of issues regarding:
- Water quality (pollution), where water quantity within the basin is adequate;
- Water quantity, where water flows fluctuate from too much or too little, leading to stress in hydro relations between states (e.g. dams and diversion);
- Boundary issues in transboundary rivers or where a determination of whether or not the watercourse is international or not may have implications over the use of the watercourses (Daza-Clark, 2022).
Transboundary watercourse use and management is influenced and decided by domestic, regional, and global power dynamics as well as global and regional environmental and climate changes, many aspects of which international environmental law stands unable to regulate or influence. However, countries with tensions often find a way to have continuing conversations over water resources, even when in dispute on other issues, or when publicly criticising each other over the issue of transboundary water sources (Funnemark, 2020).
Settlement mechanisms for water disputes
Dispute Settlement Mechanisms (DSMs) are available to riparian states under public international laws applicable to international or transboundary freshwater disputes i.e. International Water Law (IWL). DSMs are generally divided into two groups: diplomatic (moving from negotiation, mediation and conciliation) and jurisdictional (arbitration and adjudication/judicial settlement). These could be considered to be part of any ‘tool kit’ of conflict prevention or resolution (Daza-Clark, 2022).
Watercourse agreements include negotiations or consultations as the ‘first-step’ DSM. As an extension of the obligation to cooperate, negotiation has proven one of the most effective mechanism for addressing water disputes, and it is always preferred before using other DSMs. A new approach referred to as water diplomacy is thus emerging (Daza-Clark, 2022).
In transboundary water disputes as a form of interstate negotiation, the line between ‘formal mechanisms’ and ‘informal ones’ is not a rigid one, and does not necessarily align with ‘more effective’ and ‘less effective’ interstate agreements. Disaggregating what causes ‘compliance pull’ and induces parties to stick to the commitments they agree to can be useful to negotiating an agreement because it provides a way of working with reluctance over certain issues or areas within water disputes (Daza-Clark, 2022).
Reluctance to formalise an agreement because of a specific issue relating to the agreement being difficult to plan for and where data on the issue is uncertain, such as future drought, can be in a sense compensated for by agreeing a clear process with an element of external third party involvement (Daza-Clark, 2022).
If a clear process is established for how an uncertain issue (e.g. drought) will be addressed and what processes will be triggered, this can be as or indeed more effective in protecting a neighbouring state than formalising commitments, given that formalised commitments may have to be renegotiated if something like drought or climate change plays out in unexpected ways (Daza-Clark, 2022).
Another option for approaching uncertainty is through the implementation of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), which may further understanding of the mutual gains that states could achieve through cooperation. Ideally, this would be operationalised as a cross-state initiative (Funnemark, 2020).
The existence of a watercourse agreement, however drafted, does not guarantee the settlement of potential disputes. Good faith and willingness of the riparian states makes these mechanisms effective and ultimately legitimate. Where no DSM seems to be available, riparian states may give consent to settle transboundary water disputes by referring to other international conventions of a general scope that the parties may have entered to, such as the Pact of Bogotá, the Protocol of the African Union, or arbitral agreements of general nature (Daza-Clark, 2022).
International law and environmental conflict
There are key principles in international law that are applicable to transboundary watercourse disputes regarding quantity of water. Though at times vague, international law can shift the focus away from states’ sovereign rights towards the need for cooperation between states and consideration of entities beyond states. In doing so, it provides guiding principles that can inform conflict management and resolution. This illustrates the value of international law consideration in dispute negotiation (Funnemark, 2020).
The principle of equitable and reasonable use as found in international watercourse law provides a basis for negotiating transboundary watercourse conflicts. Though this principle is vague in many ways, it embodies a key recognition of the shared nature of transboundary watercourses and consequently the necessity of considering the needs and rights of other riparian states (Funnemark, 2020).
Public, transparent, updated and cross-border Environmental Impact Assessments have the potential to bring a human needs perspective to transboundary watercourse disputes that are often perceived as a sovereign dispute. A human needs approach can emphasise possible mutual gains in effective transboundary watercourse management, by highlighting the interdependence of human needs of peoples on both sides of borders states (Funnemark, 2020).
Comparative frameworks in similar disputes have often worked well by regionalising their approach to cross-border water management, bringing in all the countries connected to the watercourses. The contribution of the treaties and mechanisms for cooperation agreed have often been how they establish processes for ongoing technical cooperation, which can continue behind the scenes even if there is ongoing public interstate dispute or even violent conflict states (Funnemark, 2020).