Environmental peace building has emerged as a new frontier in interdisciplinary studies, which seeks to go beyond the traditional role of natural resources or environmental change in general in triggering and exacerbating conflicts, but to look at the positive peace-building potential of environmental and natural resources in not only post-conflict societies but also fragile societies with weak governance and nation states that are at perpetual conflict with each other (that may not necessarily be physical in nature) over environmental resources or otherwise. Science diplomacy also aims at building bridges between societies where formal relationships are strained, strengthening partnerships between scientific and diplomatic communities and so on. The two conceptual frameworks, at the outset, seem to have common goals; and therefore, if they are aligned with each other, can they provide better solutions to the problems of the 21st century?
Against this background, a three-part webinar series, centred on science diplomacy and environmental peace building, was organised during April and May 2019, with the aim of:
Exploring the role of science diplomacy in environmental peace building;
Examining the interlinkages between science diplomacy and environmental peace building through empirical cases from various regions; and
Identify the institutions and stakeholders at international, regional and local levels that could operationalise or implement science diplomacy-environmental peace building initiatives.
The webinar series was supported by the Centre for Climate Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (India), Environmental Peacebuilding Association, Earth System Governance Project, Early Career Researchers Network of Networks, Young Ecosystem Services Specialists, Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers, and International Consortium of Research Staff Associations.
While the first session focussed on the role of science diplomacy and environmental peace building in Cyprus, the second and third sessions dealt with the polar regions and oceans governance. Details and recordings of the webinars are provided below.
Webinar 1: Science Diplomacy and Environmental Peacebuilding: Overcoming Political Boundaries by Leveraging Science and Protecting the Environment in Cyprus
Dr. Simge Davulcu (Assistant Professor in Organic Chemistry, Girne American University, Cyprus)
Dr. Myrtani Pieri (Assistant Professor, School of Sciences and Engineering, Department of Life and Health Sciences, University of Nicosia, Cyprus)
All the sessions were coordinated and moderated by Dr. Dhanasree Jayaram, Co-Coordinator, Centre for Climate Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, and Research Fellow, Earth System Governance Project.
In the first webinar, Dr. Davulcu and Dr. Pieri touched upon their experience of working on science diplomacy in Cyprus through the “Science for Peace Initiative” (founded by Dr. Davulcu), which has opened up a platform for dialogue and communication between scientists and communities in North and South Cyprus, thus also facilitating peace. In a politically divided Cyprus, there is increasing awareness about cooperating on environmental issues as they “depend on the same ecosystems and natural recourses” and face similar problems such as climate change, water scarcity, heat and dust and threats to biodiversity”, as observed by Dr. Pieri. Besides the events and projects started under the Science for Peace Initiative such as the Cafe Scientifique; Fame Lab and the Mediterranean Science Festival, scientists from both parts of Cyprus are currently engaged in research collaborations, including a project on caves, biodiversity in the buffer zone, “Birds Have No Boundaries” and more recently climate change.
In the second webinar, while Dr. Dodds spoke about the indispensable interconnectedness between science diplomacy and geopolitics, especially in the context of polar regions. Tracing the history of over 150 years of international collaboration that has shaped the Arctic and the Antarctic, he gave credit to science diplomacy for the flourishing of the Antarctic Treaty. He also provided a critical perspective on the discussion by highlighting the complexities involved in science diplomacy in the region now, with activities such as resource exploitation, tourism, and biological prospecting among others. He observed, “Science diplomacy is really a complex matter and not the silver bullet some envision, particularly in our current post-truth/fake-news global scenario where science is constantly challenged.”
Dr. Brooks spoke in length about her research that “helped drive the adoption of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica – one of healthiest and most productive marine ecosystems left on Earth.” Highlighting the successes and modalities of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), she analysed the journey of the Ross Sea MPA. She narrated the scientific efforts taken to overcome several obstacles that came in the wat of its adoption, including competing fishing interests, sovereignty claims over Antarctica since the 1950s and unequal economic trade-offs. As remarked by Dr. Brooks, “It was not only an environmental win for Antarctica and the whole world, but also a diplomatic win. It felt like a peace agreement, especially in the context of heightened geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia. It made me realise that we still do have exceptional governance despite tensions and contested resource frontiers.” The webinar reinforces the fact that science, despite being a double-edged sword, does have a crucial role in the process of marine conservation and resource management in the polar regions.
In the third webinar, Dr. Gonçalves underscored the relevance of science diplomacy in terms of resolving global challenges such as climate change that do not recognise political boundaries and hence, cannot be tackled alone. She uses the model of formal policy process to explain the entangled world of Brazilian marine bill, lacking harmony between various sectors, including academic, executive, legislature and civil society. The use of science diplomacy in an environment where policies do not interact with each other is being manifested through knowledge networks, consisting of social and natural scientists, which are working towards harmonising the policy process by interacting with each other. There are increasing number of initiatives worldwide, including in Brazil, targeted at oceans and sovereignty, under which MPAs are being enhanced. In Brazil, for instance, by the end of 2018, the MPA rose from 1.5 percent to 27 percent, although there are lingering questions about their design and so on.
Borton focussed on the role of science diplomacy in providing a way to avoid the worst (for its rich natural heritage) in the South China Sea in a rational and transparent manner. Developments in the region such as land reclamation and overfishing threaten marine biodiversity, affecting almost 1.9 billion people. He revealed that the South China Sea claimant nations have already been talking to each other in workshops and so on, about the way forward in terms of preventing a major collapse in the fish stocks. According to him, although China is recognised as a global and regional power, workshops organised by China could engender a level of trust and that science diplomacy could take roots in a regionally contested area like the South China Sea.
The webinar series brought out several issues concerning science diplomacy and environmental peace building in contexts that are conflict ridden or politically divided or geopolitically tense/critical. Besides the potential of science diplomacy in building trust and promoting cooperation, the sessions also emphasised the importance of strengthening science-policy interface (overcoming the preponderance of power in decision-making), science communication and so on.
Author: Dr. Dhanasree Jayaram, Co-Coordinator, Centre for Climate Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, and Research Fellow, Earth System Governance Project.
The author would like to acknowledge the inputs from Carla Isobel Elliff, Young Ecosystem Services Specialists (YESS), Sunitha Anup, Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE) and Rashmi Ramesh, MAHE, in preparing the reports and this blog.