Building Green Peace: Peacebuilding & Environmentalism

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Let me say: I’m pretty excited to share a by-line with Jurgen Brauer, who blogs at Stone Garden Economics. Jurgen is a co-author of the book Peace Economics and co-editor of The Economics of Peace & Security Journal.

We collaborated last month to discuss the environmental impact of war. (Jurgen wrote a book on that too.) We concluded that it’s time for peacebuilders and environmentalists to come together.

In the past, human conflict and destruction of the environment were viewed as separate problems. Today, they must be seen as interlocking parts of the same problem. Organizations need to respond by approaching them in an integrated, unified manner. Putting a conservationist’s desk in every peacebuilding office and a conflict assessment specialist or peacebuilding program officer in every environmental NGO would make tangible progress toward the protection of people and the planet.

Read the full article – from the environmental impact of war, to discussion of climate change and conflict, with our recommendations – here, on World Politics Review.

An Ecosystem for Peace

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A few weeks ago, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released a new report on the Pillars of Peace – the first quantitative framework for understanding positive peace. Positive peace – the presence of attitudes, institutions, and structures to support peacefulness – is the counterpart to negative peace – the absence of violence or the fear of violence. IEP has pioneered the frameworks for quantitatively measuring both negative and positive peace. By testing 4,700 variables for correlation with the Global Peace Index (GPI), the measurement of negative peace, IEP identified the key social conditions that coincide with the absence of violence. The statistically significant variables fall into eight categories, or Pillars:

  • Well functioning government
  • Sound business environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Acceptance of the rights of others
  • Good relations with neighbours
  • Free flow of information
  • High levels of education
  • Low levels of corruption

The new report was released just in time for the opening of 68th session of the UN General Assembly, and the accompanying High Level meetings of world leaders in New York City. This year’s hot topic: the Millennium Development Goals, which will remain un-met at their 2015 deadline, and what to do next. A global process is underway to design an improved post-2015 framework, and the peacebuilding community has been calling for the inclusion of a peace and security goal.

IEP participated in a number of discussions around operationalizing the Pillars of Peace post 2015, and I was invited to join one of these conversations at the Quaker House here in New York. Representatives of the UN and civil society communities gathered to hear a presentation from IEP founder Steve Killelea and to discuss how the Pillars of Peace framework could be put into practice. The main takeaway?

Success lies in building a sustainable ecosystem for peace.

A few criticisms of the framework were raised, but in my mind, each of them underscores the need for a holistic approach more than they reveal unsolvable problems:

  • Gender: IEP consistently finds that the available data on global gender inequity and gender-based violence (GBV) is either inadequate (too few countries, unreliable, etc.) or not statistically significant, resulting in the absence of gender indicators in the GPI and the Pillars of Peace. The data issue is a real constraint – see the next point. But that doesn’t mean gender inequity is unimportant to peace. On one hand, as a discussant in the session noted, we have to be creative about exploring every indicator. The global data on domestic violence is problematic, but what about indicators for the number of women in parliament? The number of female cabinet members? The implementation of 1325? On the other hand, well, see the point on correlation.
  • Data: Gender isn’t the only category in which it’s difficult to gather accurate data. It was noted in conversation that sometimes a country is so poor it lacks the infrastructure to measure how poor it is. And violence only complicates this – on top of destroying infrastructure, violent activity is often illegal (and therefore clandestine), always chaotic, and usually both. So while quantitative measurements of something as illusive as peace are appealing, we have to remain aware of their limitations. Statistics are only as good as the underlying data.
  • Correlation: The Pillars of Peace represent the social indicators that correlate with the GPI. That means that anything left out of the GPI will similarly be left of the Pillars. It’s logical that something like Well Functioning Government, which includes rule of law, will correlate significantly with an index that includes indicators like perceived criminality and levels of violent crime. However, it also makes sense that measures of gender equity wouldn’t correlate with an index that doesn’t include an indicator for GBV. This isn’t a problem of IEP trying to leave it out, of course – there are a lot of reasons why the data on GBV is problematic. But we can’t forget that what isn’t present in our statistics isn’t unimportant – especially to the victims of the violence we aren’t counting.
  • Linearity: This was one of the most prominent points of the conversation. Practitioners working with very real resource constraints raised the dual issue of the need to prioritize areas of work and the problematic nature of working in a linear fashion – the eight Pillars, as interdependent factors, can’t be checked off a list in priority order. In the room, this felt like the greatest challenge for operationalizing the framework. But upon reflection, perhaps it’s the greatest opportunity.

The more we discussed linearity, the more the word “ecosystem” came out as the preferred alternative. Indeed, IEP promotes the Pillars of Peace framework as a systems approach, noting on page 3 of the report that the pillars are interdependent, comparable to the various species in a forest, and that “the wider interactions in a system also determine the ways components themselves operate.” But the challenge arises in translating systems thinking into systems working.

Some discussion participants felt that the best way to correct for issues in the quantitative frameworks, and to account for local context and needs, was to connect the quantitative tools to existing qualitative tools, particularly conflict analysis. However, it seems to me that the Pillars of Peace framework is ripe for a peacebuilding analysis. The eight Pillars are likely to correspond closely with both the post-2015 goals and the civil society and social enterprise work happening in settings all over the world. It could be said that ending extreme poverty is the major difference, but Killelea pointed out that, in an extreme poverty setting, “everyone is trying to make a buck” and that’s as relevant a business environment as any. After all, IEP finds that a Sound Business Environment includes quality infrastructure, access to the Internet, and clean water for the majority of a population – three fairly standard development goals.

Would it be possible to map our peacebuilding and development work in a given context according to the eight Pillars? It would be beyond the scope of any one organization to work on every aspect of all eight, but in order to know if, and how, we’re building an ecosystem for peace in Sierra Leone, or Syria, or Detroit, for example, it might be possible for one team to map the existing work, across organizations, against the Pillars of Peace framework. Where are we succeeding? Where are we falling short? And who should be working together?

When we find that development and the absence of violence are correlated, it means that these things move together. And so we can likely amplify our success in all arenas by working on them together. A peacebuilding analysis based on the Pillars of Peace would be informed by the quantitative work, but could build in the necessary qualitative work for context factors, actor mapping, and identifying what discussion participants called “pathways” and “momentum factors.” Such a systems working tool could be the first step in building sustainable ecosystems for peace. Perhaps that should be IEP’s – or one of their partners’ – next project.