Nobel Peace Prize: Environment for Peace

The Nobel Peace Prize is to be presented this month. When it was announced that this year’s winner was Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife, the reaction of the mainstream media was bewilderment. The Economist was perhaps typical, asking ‘What does planting trees have to do with peace?’ and then later answering its own question, ‘Ms. Maathai’s work, though admirable, is only distantly related to the prevention of war’.

The World Today Updated 19 October 2020 Published 1 December 2004 4 minute READ

Richard Tarasofsky

The reaction to the prize is perhaps understandable in an era where security issues are dominated by concerns over terrorism and warfare in Iraq. However, the links between environment and security have been well known for more than a decade.

The 1990s saw the emergence of a significant new policy discussion on environment and security, highlighted by the predictions of future ‘water wars’; the well-publicised White House briefings by Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore; through to the creation in 1999 of a ‘Peace Park’ that straddles the contentious Peru-Ecuador frontier. Research since has confirmed that in many cases lasting peace is dependent on sustainable development and democracy – exactly the criteria the Norwegian Nobel committee applied.

Commodities and conflict

The links between the environmental resources and security can be seen in several well-known conflicts:

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