The following is a transcript of a public policy conversation, The Interconnectedness of Peace and Nature Conservation, which took place at the Keough School Washington Office on November 1, 2022.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Josefina Echavarría. I’m the director of the Peace Accords Matrix at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. It is a pleasure to be with all of you here today. We had over 500 participants register online and a few dozen here at the office of the Keough School of Global Affairs in Washington, DC. We would like to give our warmest welcome to all of you who join us from near and afar, and especially to our distinguished panelists and moderator. We’re also honored to have Ambassador Luis Gilberto Murillo and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Colleen Crenwelge.
Today, we gather around the key topics of peace and nature, highlighting their interconnection, and hence, our obligations as scholars, practitioners, and policy makers to bring environmental conservation and peacemaking together. At the Peace Accords Matrix, we’re investing in making the environment one of the key anchor points of our work. The Peace Accords Matrix monitors the implementation of comprehensive peace accords in over 34 cases around the world and enjoys the unique mandate to monitor, in real time, the implementation of the 2016 Colombian Final Peace Accord signed between the former president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the former FARC-EP guerrillas.
We’re deeply grateful for this exceptional opportunity granted to us by the signatory parties, the Honorable Juan Manuel Santos and the former FARC-EP. Our monitoring and accompaniment in the past years has given us important insights into the benefits of implementation. Empirical evidence suggests, for instance, that stronger and more focused implementation of peace accords leads to better provision of health and education services. Implementation focused on gender advances gender equality, and contributes to increasing women’s political participation, thus, strengthening democracy. We also know that the populations most affected by wars tend to be more vulnerable to the emerging consequences of climate change.
For this reason, these vulnerable communities must be prioritized in peace making and peacebuilding efforts. In times of conflict, changes are needed to achieve sustainable and lasting peace and promote the implementation of programs that strengthen, preserve, protect, and preserve ecosystems and their vitality and to protect and empower communities. As third-party monitors, we are very much looking forward to learning from and engaging with our invited panelists as they discuss conservation and peacebuilding today. This panel discussion is the result of a collaborative effort by several institutions who do remarkable work. I would like to thank Conservation International for joining us today and co-sponsoring this event. We are grateful for this opportunity to work together and hope to grow our partnership. The United States Institute for Peace (USIP) has been a strong ally and partner of the Kroc Institute supporting all our peacebuilding efforts for many years.
To USIP, whose representative Steve Hege is joining us today, many thanks for co-sponsoring this event. Another co-sponsor to which we are indebted is Humanity United, a foundation that has supported the Peace Accords Matrix for over five years with a partnership that speaks to their deep commitment to peacebuilding work. Thank you very much for supporting innovation at PAM as well as supporting this event. And last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank CSO, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the US Department of State, which has meaningfully supported our work from the very beginning of the Peace Accords Matrix Barometer Initiative in Colombia. CSO has been a reliable corporation partner that has enabled us to develop our research and engage in peacebuilding practice on the ground in Colombia. Thank you for the trust and the opportunities you continue to afford us and your contribution to the processes of policymaking.
Representing CSO, we have here today Colleen Crenwelge, who will be sharing the opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Anne Witkowsky. Colleen Crenwelge is the Principal and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations where she guides the bureau in its global mandate to anticipate, prevent, and respond to conflicts that undermine US national interests. Her prior assignments as a career foreign service officer include Mogadishu, Somalia, Lahore in Pakistan and Kabul in Afghanistan, and she was director of the Office of Global Social Media in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. Deputy Principal Assistant Secretary, thank you for joining us today. We are delighted that you’re here with us in our offices. The stage is yours.
Thank you and thanks very much, Josefina, for that really kind introduction. We, at the US Department of State, are of course extremely grateful for our close partnership with the Keough School and the Kroc Institute, and I know Assistant Secretary Witkowsky, my boss, was extremely disappointed that she couldn’t join you all today. We’re grateful for your special attention to environmental challenges and the inclusion of vulnerable populations in the peace process.
This topic is vital. It’s also timely, given the state of conflict around the world and the increasingly visible effects of climate change, which our own US national security strategy calls the existential challenge of our time. The maximum implementation of Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord is of great importance to the United States, and I’d like to talk a little bit about it and what made it so special.
It’s an essential tool for addressing the root causes of and challenging the structural issues affecting violence and instability in Colombia. This work is an extension of our ongoing partnership with the Kroc Institute. We’re proud to have supported Kroc’s groundbreaking work over the past six years as it has monitored implementation of the peace accord and we very much look forward to what’s to come.
Today, we have an important opportunity to delve into the lessons learned from Colombia’s peace process, to see what worked and how we might apply those lessons around the world. We would say that if there’s one word that characterizes the Colombian peace process, it’s innovation. From designing the negotiations through implementation, the actors involved in the 2016 Peace Accord have given us multiple examples of innovative ways to engage in the negotiations process, most of which led to better and more sustainable outcomes and longer lasting peace. Innovation in the negotiations themselves and in the structure of the document has carried through to the implementation of the agreement.
I’d first like to highlight the innovation in the Accord’s design. The 2016 Peace Accord is unique in that implementation monitoring and the Kroc Institute as a monitor is written into the text. That addition made accountability a critical component of the peace process from the start. The Kroc Institute was given a mandate to monitor implementation and to report its findings in real time with information made available to the public. This mandate and the Kroc Institute’s ongoing transparency and consultation made it a trusted broker and a reliable source of data and recommendations. That trust, combined with that real time data, creates opportunities even today to correct courses and to address areas of concern before it’s too late.
I’d also like to highlight the importance of outside consultations during the negotiation process. In a welcomed change from previous attempts, the negotiators engaged with civil society actors who weren’t permanently seated at the table during negotiations, rather than ignoring those groups or presenting them with outcomes after the fact. During the negotiation process itself, parties were able to hear from survivors, creating an important space to enable provisions on gender, ethnic minority, and other community considerations. Those provisions likely wouldn’t have made it into the agreement if it hadn’t been for those personal testimonies.
I’d also like to note the robust and weighty civil society engagement in the process. Civil society built coalitions at the local and national level for individuals and groups to come together over shared concerns. These coalitions were powerful in part because of the diversity and depth of their commitment.
So, we recognize that innovations laid the groundwork for the Peace Accord’s gender and ethnic provisions, which made the accord more inclusive, equitable, and representative of the populations affected by conflict. Ongoing advocacy by civil society and continuous vigilant monitoring of implementation kept up the pressure to ensure those provisions could not be ignored. The Colombian people’s commitment to these provisions has held strong.
To bolster this commitment, Secretary of State Blinken announced in early October that the United States would be the first international accompanier of the ethnic chapter of the Peace Accord. And that’s a sign not just of US commitment to peace in Colombia, but also to Colombia’s democracy and to the rights of all Colombians.
As the Secretary noted in his announcement, when every community has equal access to opportunity, to justice, to development and security, all of society benefits. So, the vision presented in the Peace Accord is one of inclusive peace, which is an example for future processes. The vision addresses the history of inequity and the unequal burden of violence in a way that’s instructive for peace processes around the globe.
So, while this list of innovations is far from exhaustive, it provides key elements of success that we must take into account for future accords. The challenge now is to tap into these innovations to help us find adaptive solutions to the climate crisis. So, we’ve learned from Colombia’s experience and other peace processes around the world that seriously addressing environmental issues during war, obviously, is an immense challenge. Peace is paramount to providing the security and stability needed to deal effectively with issues that affect us all. Colombia’s innovation gives us a blueprint for how efforts to address environmental challenges can become local, actionable, and truly responsive to local needs.
An essential part of all of this is meaningfully engaging with local groups, hearing their priorities, and following their guidance of what they would consider successful local interventions. It’s especially important to engage the most marginalized communities, which all too often inhabit spaces where environmental degradation and climate change become threatening multipliers, further exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. Colombia’s indigenous peoples and rural and poor communities are struggling with a wide range of challenges today from more devastating and frequent natural disasters to the struggle over dwindling resources. Armed groups and competing economic interests add an additional layer of complexity. So, renewed focus on the ethnic chapter and the needs of Colombia’s most marginalized, we hope, will help address these challenges.
I look forward to today’s discussion to further identify best practices in addressing the intersection of environmental effects and vulnerable populations and peace processes. These concerns will continue to be at the forefront of our efforts in the stabilization realm and need our urgent attention. So, thanks very much for your time and thank you as well for your commitment to building a more peaceful and safer future for all of us. Thank you.
Wonderful. Thank you so much, dear Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Crenwelge, for your opening remarks. I would now like to introduce the moderator of our distinguished panel of discussion, Melanie Greenberg. Melanie has spent her career supporting the field of peacebuilding from the perspectives of philanthropy, practice, and academia. Melanie is currently Managing Director for peacebuilding at Humanity United and previously served as CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.
She has helped design and facilitate public peace processes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, and she’s a frequent writer, lecturer and trainer in the areas of international law, international security, and peacebuilding. Melanie holds a BA from Harvard and a JD from Stanford Law School and lives in McLean, Virginia. Thank you, dear Melanie, for serving as our moderator today. The stage is yours.
Thank you so much, Josefina. I seem to be breaking every microphone that I sit on today, so hopefully this will be working properly. It is a great honor to be here with you today, and I want to thank you Josefina, Laurel, Omar, everyone who made this today possible, to thank the Keough School of Global Affairs, the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, Conservation International, the Bureau of Conflict Stabilization and Operations, and Humanity United for bringing us all together today. I can’t think of a more auspicious day to be meeting as we move into COP27 on Sunday. And I can’t think of a better group of people today to talk about how to bring peace and the environment together. How do we talk about the voice of nature? Who represents nature in peace agreements? How do we think about the very abstract ideas of climate, of conservation, of nature, and turn them into the very real experience that victims of conflict experience every day?
We are very used to now, in the peacebuilding field and the conservation field, to thinking about the negative drivers of conflict, the negative drivers of climate in all of the contexts in which we work— in Mali, in South Sudan, in Colombia, in Afghanistan, around the world. We’re seeing the effects of climate show up in very real ways. We don’t often, though, hear about the optimistic side, what does it mean, in complex peace agreements, to use conservation, to use the remediation of climate change as a way to empower communities, as a way to give communities voice not only in the peace agreements, but in the decades that follow? How do we think about the role of climate, the effect of climate trauma, as we think about truth commissions and transitional justice? So today, we are remarkably fortunate to have three of the world’s deepest experts talk with us about both the challenges, but also the deep opportunities that lie in really getting to the specifics of mixing climate and peace in peace agreements and everything beyond.
It’s a great, great pleasure to introduce our panelists today, and I’ll go in some detail into their backgrounds to give you a sense of the skills and the perspectives that they’re bringing today. It is just a remarkable pleasure and honor to introduce the Honorable Juan Manuel Santos. He is the former President of Colombia, 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He is a distinguished policy fellow at the Keough School of Global Affairs and the Arnhold distinguished fellow at Conservation International.
President Santos led Colombia from 2010 to 2018, and during his two terms in office, the peace process that culminated in the signing of the historic Colombia Peace Agreement on November 24th, 2016 was at the center of his policy. This agreement, as we heard from the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, is celebrated as a major turning point in ending the country’s 52-year armed conflict with the FARC in Colombia. He was the sole recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. He also received the Lamp of Peace from the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Italy, which honors those working to promote peace and harmony, and the Tipperary International Peace Award in Ireland for his efforts to bring peace to the country and the region.
Before serving as President, Santos served as Minister of Foreign Trade and was elected to the Colombian Congress as the Presidential Designate, similar to the role of the Vice President in the US. He also served as the Minister of Finance and a Minister of Defense. And prior to serving his government roles, he was a deputy publisher and journalist with the Colombian publication El Tiempo. And he won the King of Spain prize for journalism for a series of articles looking at corruption within the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. I highly recommend, for all of you, President Santos’ book, The Battle for Peace, which has been so inspiring for me to read to gain his perspective of his background, his evolution, and the art towards peace, his change of thinking, and regarding the FARC and what peace means in Colombia. So everyone, please read this.
I’m also delighted to introduce Daniela Raik, Dr. Daniela Raik. She is Executive Vice President of Field Programs at Conservation International, and she has led their efforts on impact in nearly 30 countries worldwide. Daniela directs the organization’s efforts to maximize nature as a climate solution—I loved that phrase—to expand ocean conservation and to advance models of sustainable development that maintain natural capital while generating benefits for people. Prior to this role, she served as Senior Vice President of Conservation International’s Americas Program overseeing key strategic initiatives in Amazonia, the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and the Water in Cities program in Bogotá, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. Daniela has spent more than two decades in conservation and she holds a PhD and master’s in natural resources from Cornell and BA in biology from NYU.
Finally, it is wonderful to welcome Michael Keating to Washington. Michael is the executive director of the European Institute of Peace, which is an independent body partnering with the European Union as a resource to provide and promote practical support for more effective approaches to conflict prevention, resolution, and mediation. Until September 2018, Keating was a special representative of the Secretary General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia. And I hope, in the course of your remarks today, you can talk about the links between climate, peace, and conflict in Somalia. His career has been divided between the private and public sectors.
He’s served as the associate director at Chatham House in London, has served as a senior advisor to numerous mediation bodies around the world, and his UN careers included assignments in Kabul, in Jerusalem, in Gaza, in New York, Geneva, Islamabad, and Mogadishu. He also has experience as a journalist and in financial publishing. So, perhaps we can talk today about how you present the stories of peace and climate. He holds a master’s degree in arts and a master’s degree in history from the University of Cambridge. So, I want to welcome all of you and please join me here on the stage.
Wonderful. I would like-
[sound of paper shuffling]
Oh, excuse me. Can everyone hear me okay?
President Santos, I’d like to open the floor to you by asking you a very specific question, and then I hope that you can use that as a launching point for some more general reflections about how you’ve come to the understanding of the voice of nature and peace.
May I ask a very specific question first before your statement, or would you prefer to start?
Juan Manuel Santos:
Well first, thank you very much to all of you for being here and to the sponsors of this event, to Conservation International, to the Kroc Institute, to also the University of Notre Dame—I think this is their [DC] headquarters—and all my colleagues here, the panel.
I would like to start, because this is an incredible coincidence: the week before I was in London at the meeting of the elders, and Humanity United was there— Rick was with me in London (he’s one of the sponsors of the elders)—and this issue of climate and conflict was one of the issues we discussed. In New York just a couple of days after, at the board of the Wildlife Conservation Society, this issue—climate and conflict—we discussed a lot about what was happening in Congo, and how the conflict was affecting conservation. This is an issue we are going to discuss this week in the board of the International Crisis Group. It’s an issue which is one of the priorities. And next Sunday, there’s a very important meeting in Egypt where I hope they address this issue. That’s why I have a very short statement on this issue, and then we can start discussing.
I would like to say the following: The acute environmental crisis and the growing security and conflict threats that we face are interconnected. And together, they present a new era of risk for humanity. Every day of inaction on the environment crisis intensifies tomorrow’s security risks. Environmental degradation will keep exacerbating an already challenging security landscape and undermining peace.
Continued damage to the planet and ecosystems presents the biggest long-term risk to global human security of our time. We must tackle these challenges together to achieve peace and environmental integrity. And why?
Two billion people. Two billion people live in countries where fragility, conflict, and violence hinder social progress. Four billion people experience water scarcity at least one month per year. 733 million live with critical water stress. About a third of the world’s soil is degraded. Water and food insecurity play a critical role in driving or exacerbating conflict, and transboundary water disputes are among the biggest climate security risks.
Climate-induced displacement and migration exacerbates tensions and conflict if met with inflammatory policies. We’re seeing this all around the world. Half of the 21 UN peacekeeping missions are in highly climate change-exposed countries. The problem is that the international system is failing. The international system is failing to respond to the scale of the challenge. Wealthy countries have consistently failed to meet their commitment to provide a hundred billion dollars of climate finance per year. And the most fragile states have received just one 80th, not one eighth, one 80th of the climate financing per capita that flows to non-fragile states.
Meanwhile, global military spending exceeds $2.1 trillion in 2021, having nearly doubled since 2020. Governments provide subsidies for fossil fuels of over $500 billion per year. And the global total for potentially harmful subsidies according to the IMF is between five and seven trillion per year. What does this tell us? That governments and political leaders need to radically change direction and reprioritize resources.
Just an example here in Washington: the USA spends over $100 billion per year on defense, but less than six billion dollars on international climate finance. Governments must stop spending trillions of dollars per year that stoke insecurity and conflicts. Instead, they and the global financial institutions should ensure that both public money that they provide, and the private money that they regulate, are spent in ways that promote peace, resilience, and environmental integrity. Ensuring policies will reduce and not exacerbate tensions and conflict requires meaningful inclusion, as was said here, of those affected by them.
This is all too often stated, but not deliberately put into practice.
And I want to say I am very grateful to the State Department, to the US government, for their help in the Colombian peace process because it is one of the unique aspects of the peace process, and for their help. And it’s a coincidence that from the peace process, the Secretary of State was John Kerry, who’s now in the front of the battle against climate change. And in my government, the Environmental Minister is now the Ambassador to the United States, and he is here with us. It’s always a good coincidence.
I wanted to make this statement because I think it’s something that we need the political leaders of the world to be aware of, of what is happening and the challenge. And I want to emphasize how important it is to work together on the issues. I don’t understand why we still have two summits—one of biodiversity and one of climate change. They are the same problem, and conflict and the environment should also be addressed as one big problem, because they are so interrelated.
Now, we can discuss the specific aspects of the Colombian peace process whenever you want, or why I was drawn into this issue. Very shortly, I was sort of drawn to the issue by the indigenous communities in my country.
The day I became president, that morning, I went as a gesture to them to say, “Please, I recognize you as our older brothers and give me your blessing to go to Congress and be sworn in.” And they said, “Okay, we’ll do that. We will discuss it among ourselves.” They came back and they said, “You have our blessing, but make peace with the FARC, that’s what you want. But also make peace with nature, because nature is mad. Mother Earth has been mistreated, and she will retaliate, and you’re going to be a victim of that retaliation.” 10 days afterwards, the worst La Niña phenomenon started in Colombia, and I had to administer a flooded country for about a year and a half.
Right now, we are having big problems with the La Niña phenomenon in Colombia, but that is nothing compared to what we had in 2010. I didn’t know how to address that. I called in many experts from the international community, among them Al Gore. He went to Colombia, and I spent two days with him. And it’s like spending four years at the University of Notre Dame. I learned so much about climate change, and I was absolutely convinced of the importance, and the importance of bringing in everybody into this issue and connecting it with the peace process.
And to end the story, eight years later, the indigenous communities had told me, “Come back, with you and your government, and give us back our baton.” (They gave me a baton as a leader of an issue). And I went back, and I went back very proud and gave them the peace process, the text of the peace agreement, with your mandate for peace here. And I gave them, because it was a Colombian initiative, the documents about the SDGs that were approved in the United Nations in 2017. And I gave them to them, and this is in my mandate, that you said, peace with nature.
And they said, “We will study the two documents and come back in 15 days.” And I was still president, and I went back 15 days afterwards and they said, “We thought everything was okay, but in the SDGs there’s something fundamentally lacking.” And I said, “What?” And they said, “It’s spiritual content.” And I said, “What do you mean by spiritual content?”
“Yes, unless human beings connect with nature, treat nature as their equal, feel that rivers and trees and the sea, the oceans have life, that peace with nature will never be sustainable.”
And that was very strong, and I thought about that. I think this is one of the issues that we need to emphasize. Out of that process, there was a very important decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court. In November of 2016, the court made a ruling giving the Atrato River, which is the mightiest river in the world, water rights. That was unprecedented. A court saying a river has rights.
I think we need to approach the problem of the environment as we approach the problem of the human beings: humans have rights, nature also has rights. I was very pleased that in July of this year, the United Nations made a ruling: 161 countries in favor took the decision to recognize the human right to clean air and clean water. 161 votes in favor, zero against. It’s a big step forward, but it would be even more audacious, more important, if we did something about nature having rights in order to defend them. And with that I finish.
Thank you, Mr. President. I think you have done it all in that statement.
So we can go?
Yes, we’re done.
Let’s recognize, first, the existential nature of the issues that we’re facing. And the central paradox of how it has been invisibilized: Why is it that we are so able to spend huge resources on defense, on other more concrete challenges, and yet are ignoring that very basic level of the environment around us, that doesn’t have its own voice.
You’re talking about how political leaders incorporate this within their own countries but then the obstacles you faced as a leader of one country dealing with something as systemic as La Niña. But then, also, how do we connect the indigenous and the local experience into the political realm? I deeply appreciate your talking about the spiritual aspect. It’s something we often don’t do, especially in rooms like this in Washington, DC. And yet, that ability to connect at a very human level with nature and to recognize that nature has rights, that’s a very radical but it feels like a very authentic approach.
I want to thank you for framing the issues in this deep way and that we can now delve deeply into all of those. Thank you. And my question to you really flows quite naturally from what you just talked about. You led the creation of the SDGs in the Colombian Peace Accord. As you just said, you gave nature a voice. I was so impressed this week that you read on YouTube a testimony that was just amazing. It was extracts from the testimonies from a member of the Parcela community in Guajira, in Colombia.
And in that testimony, they were talking about water being a victim of the war. And for the Parcela community, the water supply system rebuilt after the Peace Accord was a solution to the real problem of a lack of water. But it symbolized the revitalization of the community. And first, I was struck that you were talking in the context of the Truth Commission, and so bringing these issues of nature, water, the environment, not only into the Peace Accord, but into the central ideas about justice, reparation, making people whole.
How does what you read, how is that emblematic of how you make peace with people and make peace with the environment? It was just extraordinary.
Juan Manuel Santos:
Well, you all know that every peace process has two faces. Peacemaking and then peacebuilding. Peacemaking. It’s less difficult. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s less difficult. Peacebuilding is very difficult, because it’s reconciliation, it’s healing the wounds, it’s repairing the victims. And that is much more difficult and takes much more time.
Well, the same with nature. If you want to have peace with nature, you have to make the decisions, but then you have to follow through, and you have to repair. That is also a difficult process. And we tried to do that in the Colombian peace process. For example, with our now ambassador, he was then minister of the environment, for five years, during the whole negotiation, we had another negotiation with the communities and the productive sectors of the agricultural environment, in order to establish a frontier where you can have sustainable products and grow food. We have a tremendous potential of growing food, but not in the protected areas and in the important biodiversity areas.
We managed to do that. Colombia has more or less a hundred million hectares of land. And 66 million—Ambassador, please correct me if I’m wrong—66 million we decided to protect because they are the Amazon, the tropical forest. You all know how rich Colombia is in terms of biodiversity. 66, protected. 44, we can grow. But we also established what we could grow in a sustainable way. And my dream was in this area, we would give the whole border—the Amazon, the Orinoco in the western part of the country, and the Choco—all these regions would be given to the indigenous communities. The border. Because they are the ones who better protect our biodiversity, because they understand. And they are the ones who’ve been clamoring for us not to contaminate the rivers and not to destroy nature.
We did that. And we started negotiating within the international community, the indigenous communities, and with all the productive sectors. Unfortunately, time ran out, there was a change in government and all that effort was put in a drawer, forgotten. But I hope this government brings it out. And I think it’s doing that, because this is a great challenge and a great way to look forward—incorporating the local communities, the indigenous communities, and protecting the environment. And implementing, also, the peace process; it is established in the peace process that we must do something like that.
You have a big opportunity there. We did that. We tried of course, with the ethnic chapter, with the gender chapter, to include as many vulnerable sectors of society as possible in the reconciliation. With peace, but also with nature.
Thank you very much for those reflections. As you were talking about peacemaking and peacebuilding, I wonder if I can turn to you, Michael, to talk from your experience about, how are environmental issues addressed as part of peace agreements, in ways that simply go beyond the recognition of the environment as a driver of conflict?
As we talk today about the great creativity of the Colombian Peace Agreement, the empowerment of local and indigenous communities, what patterns have you seen in other conflicts?
Well, thank you. Please allow me to start by thanking you and everybody for organizing this. It’s such a privilege to be on this panel, and I would like to thank Mr. President that it’s partly as a result of the conversation we had in the back of a van a few weeks ago, that explains my presence here. In which we were talking about some of these connections. So it’s really wonderful that-
Juan Manuel Santos:
The back of the van where?
I was in Przemysl in Eastern Poland.
Juan Manuel Santos:
Coming from where?
From Kiev. Yes, we were coming from Kiev.
I’m sorry you were stuck in the back of the van with me, sorry.
But I just wanted to, just before answering your question, Melanie, I’m so happy about the word and the title of this discussion, which is interconnectedness. Because I think one of the things that we are still struggling with is how to bring the worlds of peacebuilding and peacemaking, on the one hand, together with the worlds of knowledge of climate and environment on the other. And it’s beginning to happen, but I still think we’re at the beginning of this process. I think awareness of these connections has increased dramatically. And by the way, to the list of the wonderful things that have already been mentioned, you picked up on what the President said about the spiritual dimension. There’s also the mental health dimension too, which I think is inflicting new forms of violence on people, which we don’t often talk about.
I would say that our understanding of the connections is increasing very, very rapidly. What is not increasing at the same rate is what, in practical terms, we can do about it and how to support the actions that are required. I mean, in answer to your question, there is an Edinburgh University has a database of peace agreements. You’re probably familiar with it. And they did a search for a paper that we produced a few years back. And if my recollection is correct, there are only five peace agreements. They looked at local agreements, national agreements, international agreements that specifically mentioned climate change. And two of those are in Colombia. One was relating to the Darfur Doha agreements in 2012, one was relating to a local agreement in Nigeria, and there was another one which escapes me. But basically, climate change is not typically thought of as a formal part of peace agreements.
Having said that, if you look through peace agreements, many of them, and I have to say Colombia is the standout example of a comprehensive peace agreement, it sets the bar both in terms of the detail of the peace agreement, but also the mechanism that has been put in place to hold parties to account and to ensure its implementation. And in fact, in my experience, I’ve never come across a situation that approximates anything like what’s happened in Colombia, whether it was in Somalia, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in the Middle East or elsewhere.
But many agreements do refer to natural resources. Many agreements are triggered by catastrophes, such as droughts, floods, tsunamis. The tsunami in 2004 had a very electric effect, both in Sri Lanka and in Atche. So, there are many connections between the environment, climate, and peace agreements, but very few of them systematically address the phenomenon of climate change and environmental degradation. So, I think the scope for increasing our understanding of these connections and what can be done about them is absolutely enormous. And one of the things that my small institute is trying to do is figure out what are the practical ways in which you can make these connections, and how can you learn from people who have been engaged for decades in conservation and in protection of the national environment, as well as from people who are engaged in conflict prevention and conflict resolution?
There are some very powerful overlaps. One of them you have mentioned, which is the fundamental importance of engaging people who are directly affected by these phenomena, violence, and making sure that their voice and their agency is much, much stronger in crafting solutions. And it’s great that we all recognize this, but I fear, for the risk of being a little bit provocative, it isn’t happening. It simply isn’t happening enough. Whether you measure that, if you look at some of the peace processes that are taking place, Colleen mentioned Afghanistan, but you can look at Yemen, you can look at so many of them. The voices of people who are directly affected by violence and conflict is marginal to the political processes, to the design of those processes, to their participation. It’s as if, you know, the rhetoric is increasing, but the reality is not really changing that much.
Another metric is money. You’ve already mentioned the money side of it, but it seems to me there’s an enormous opportunity to connect investment in peace dividends with climate finance.
But the amount of money that’s going to countries which are experiencing conflict and violence is minuscule. And there’s any number of reasons given for this, including lack of institutional capacity, and so on and so on. But the fact is, unless we dramatically upscale the way in which we support people who are directly affected—by collapsing water systems, degradation of the soil (I’m so happy you mentioned soil, because I think it’s often underestimated), forest cover—and unless you are investing in their ability to manage these things, and looking at ways in which this management can bring previously conflicting parties together, then we’re condemned to carry on. And I think it’s great that COP27 is beginning to nibble at the edges of this stuff. And it is, sorry, still nibbling at the edges. It’s not mainstream. It really is not mainstream, this topic yet.
But I suppose my frustration is, given the rapidity of biodiversity loss, given the unfortunately terrible situation we’re facing globally right now… We have interstate wars back. We’ve all been assuming that internationalized civil wars were kind of the order of the day and the whole international system is sort of geared for that, and now we’re going back into a whole new era of conflict. We have the COVID precedent in terms of global solidarity, with the good aspects of that, but also the bad aspects of that. I do worry that our consciousness of the problem is completely outpacing our ability to respond to it in ways that we know could be successful, even if that involves taking a number of calculated risks, fiduciary risks. We have to have more knowledge, we have to have more data, we have to be more scientific, but that should not be a pretext for not leaning into what we know can work—drawing upon the experience of places like Colombia, drawing upon the work of organizations like Conservation International and what they’ve learned about local participation.
So, I guess my one sentence answer to your question is: not enough. I mean, they are just not featuring enough issues of environment, climate biodiversity in peace agreements, even though that may be the desire. I could talk about some of the work we’ve done in Yemen of people who are directly affected.
Well, thank you so much, Michael, for highlighting the gulf between the rhetoric and the action, and I think also mentioning the resurgence of interstate wars. I think that we can marginalize the local voices as we move into more of a cold war mentality where it’s state actors who hold the power, and it’s easy to forget about those voices that are critical for these issues. In DevEx this morning, there was an article published about even when there’s climate finance available, and they mentioned Somalia as the example, the rules are so intricate that many governments are not set up to accept the money. And how does it then trickle down to local communities? So, thank you.
Daniela, I feel like now from the conservation side, I would love to ask you from your perspective, what are you seeing in the field areas in which you’re working? And how are you seeing these connections between local voices, global processes, and systemic challenges?
Thank you. Thank you, Melanie. And let me also thank everybody, the organizers at the Keough School, the Kroc Institute. It’s really wonderful to be here on a highly distinguished panel, and a pleasure to have the opportunity to share some of our perspectives with all of you. So, between what President Santos has shared and what Michael has shared, we really have touched on many of the interconnected issues, and I agree with what has been said. The focus, however, has been on the policy and political realm. And so I think it’s important, and you mentioned this as well, to think about how we connect the grassroots actions that are taken at the individual or community or local level to the policy and political space.
From a conservation perspective, conflict is nothing new, and it has persisted. I think at the moment, Brazil and Mexico maybe are competing for the deadliest country for environmental defenders. So, we see violence on many fronts, and it is driven in large part by the effects of land degradation and scarcity. And so part of the solution is: how do we address those issues with a mindset of abundance, an abundance for all, a shared abundance that can pull people together in discussions and in reflections that either prevent conflict or can be part of a peacebuilding process, that are part of conflict resolution and reconciliation? Now, at Conservation International, and I dare say for the conservation sector writ large, although conflict is nothing new and we’ve confronted it and been confronted by it in field programs and projects for many years, a deliberate focus on the interconnectedness of conflict and security and conservation is, I think, more recent.
At Conservation International, we partner with the Peace Nexus Foundation. We are a founding member of the Environmental Peacebuilding Alliance. And so in recent years, this has come more to the fore from a strategic perspective, even if it has always existed at the grassroots.
What I see is, when we talk about climate change and the cycle of degradation and how that fuels insecurity and the outsized important role that indigenous peoples play in terms of stewarding the lands that are most important as stocks of carbon and most important for biodiversity all around the world—we could talk about Amazonia, talk about the Congo Basin, we can talk about Indonesia— these are the most important places, and 25% of that land is in the hands of indigenous peoples. So, the question then becomes: If they are at the forefront of what we need in terms of conservation and restoration, and yet at the front lines of conflict, insecurity, and violence, what do we do?
And this is where I think the intersection between that local and grassroots action and the policy and political sphere really emerges as an important space. How is it that indigenous peoples and local communities can participate effectively in policy processes and in the political sphere? What are the tools? What are the forums? How do they become aware of global negotiations, what those processes and frameworks are? How do they improve their skills in terms of negotiation and participation, particularly considering that for most of them, they are living in very rural and remote areas and are speaking in languages that are not the languages of most of these negotiations?
Now, the good news is that it is a digitally connected world so the opportunities are greater and the level of sophistication of people’s understandings, at all levels, of how interconnected conflict security and climate change and nature are is increasing, including for indigenous peoples and local communities.
So, one of the initiatives is to expose groups—local groups from the Amazon, from different places that are hotspots for biodiversity or for what we call “irrecoverable carbon,” which is carbon that’s in the soils, in the biomass, that if we lose, we can never get back in any meaningful timeframe if we want to hit the Paris climate targets. So, how do we equip them? How do we train people in negotiation? How do we inform them of what those frameworks are? And some of those trainings and convenings are occurring.
I’ll give one example. In the Amazon, there is a network of indigenous organizations that is pan Amazonian. It is comprised of national and subnational indigenous organizations, and they come together and are working with Conservation International and others as a vehicle for really bridging that gap between local action and the policy sphere. And that’s just but one example.
Maybe the last thing I’ll mention in response to this question is that the field of conservation and our toolbox has expanded in recent years.
What’s wonderful is that we heard from President Santos and from Michael about all the various forums in which nature is featured as a topic. I mean, I’ve been in this business for a while and I can say even 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago, it wasn’t like this. We wouldn’t have heads of state convening on this topic the way they are now. We wouldn’t have CEOs of the largest corporations of the world talking about this as they are now, seated side by side with indigenous leaders or leaders from academia or from the non-profit sector. So, I do feel that there is a momentum growing, but we have more work to do to match the reality to our rhetoric and to our aspiration.
Juan Manuel Santos:
Can I make a comment on what Daniela has just said—about the importance of teaching and preparing the indigenous communities, but also all the vulnerable communities, the grassroots. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
Every Nobel Laureate has a foundation. So, I have my foundation and it’s dedicated precisely to addressing the grassroots of peacemaking, peace among human beings, peace with nature. And what we do is we identify leaders of the most remote communities that have been affected by the conflict, bring them to the best university in Colombia, University of Los Andes, give them leadership courses. Most of them have never even been on a plane, it’s the first time they ride a plane. We send them back with the tools to defend nature and to resolve conflicts without violence. And the response has been incredibly high in the sense of what they have learned, their capacity to learn. It’s a crash course of three weeks, if not more, but the effect has been incredible.
So, addressing the grassroots is so important, even more than the big policymakers. The presidents can make decisions in Glasgow and Egypt and the CEOs, but if the people on the ground are not connected and involved and convinced that this is what needs to be done, usually that has to do with subsistence. And that is a very important issue.
And if I may just add, I couldn’t agree more. One of the important entry points that we have found is creating a network, because these leaders are already committed and passionate. But when they find one another, it really provides that strength, some synergistic learning. We work in northern Kenya, which is a region of the world that is plagued by environmental degradation, land degradation, but also conflict around land, around cattle. And there’s a woman there, Josephine Quiro, who is a leader and was working to address conflict in the region and being a peacebuilder at the local level through these conservancies, because she understands that the conflict is driven by the environmental degradation, which drives the conflict.
So it is a bit of a vicious cycle in that way. And after having met her and discussing with her, (we had been working in the region for a while,) she came up with the idea and we agreed to identify other women in the region from the various communities who could come together to build peace through a network with each other, but also through their families and their communities, bringing their sons, their brothers, their uncles, their fathers, who are in conflict with one another, together in a reconciliation and conflict resolution process. It has been tremendously successful. Dangerous at times, and it hasn’t been a linear path, but it has been an amazing success, and it speaks to this idea of really supporting those grassroots leaders and helping them form networks.
I can’t resist, in light of what you’ve both said, just mentioning some work we did in Yemen last year, which was even in conditions of conflict and COVID and all the rest of it.
I don’t know if you know Yemen, but it has a peace process which is not really motory, to put it mildly. We managed to talk to 16,000 Yemenis across the country through town hall meetings, questionnaires, surveys, online, as well as most of them in person. And it was such a powerful experience because the first thing that these young people and traders and students and women and everything said was, “Thank you for consulting us. We feel totally unrepresented,” which of course then creates enormous expectations, which you then have to meet. But they’re not feeling represented in any form of national discussion, let alone international discussion.
And their main message was, peace is possible, and we know how it can come about. The things that are ruining our lives, including abuse of land and water and soil, lack of access to energy, authorities enriching themselves at the expense of others—all these things lend themselves to local peace, and we need support to do this. So, it was a way of both strengthening their agency, creating a sense of hope, creating an agenda. But, that is a classic example of where, in a way, the international community is not coming in behind the opportunities and openings that are available.
I mean, the money is simply not there. The people who are involved in trying to fashion some kind of peace process, despite the fact that we bombarded them with the evidence of what people are saying about what security is, are not really responsive to that because they’re much more interested in where the weapons are coming from, where the money’s coming from. But it’s a very good example of where the two agendas meet: the peace, the conflict resolution agenda, and the protection of natural resources, including land, water, cleaning up pollution and waste meet—so using conservation, using biodiversity investment as a means of advancing local peace.
I think that you’ve all touched on a critical point of what it means to bring groups into these conversations. I think even more profoundly, what does collective action look like? Because you can deliver tools, which is absolutely critical, but in my view, not sufficient. There also has to be the networking, the collective movement building in order for that voice to truly be sustainable. So, how do you balance the technical skills and that sense of empowerment with the broader collective action consultation where the voices can truly be heard and enter the political process?
We have just a few minutes left. I really would like to open the floor to questions. Maybe we can group a few together. I think this will be challenging in our few minutes. Josefina, about 10 minutes?
15. Okay, good. So, why don’t we start in this sector of the room, these two questions.
Yes. Thank you very much. Thanks, it was pleasure to listen to you. I have this question about territory and environment, it is very related with the structural causes of the war, isn’t it? The agreement recognizes territory as a victim of the whole war. Even though Colombia is, according to the global witness report, the most dangerous country for environmental defenders. Is that a problem of the design of the agreement, that it’s not contributing to peace in this way? Because it’s maybe the problem of leaving out the economy sector, it can’t participate unless it is voluntarily in the special jurisdiction of peace? It can be related with this, because the environment problems and conflicts are so related with economy, isn’t it?
This was one question, if I can do another one very quickly. I chose one, I’m trying to study the integral system of peace. And as a former defense minister, from a time where it has been discovered a lot of crimes of war as “falsos positivos,” there was, like, don’t you think it would be very interesting and very important for the legitimacy of the system, of the whole system of peace, that you can’t participate under that jurisdiction, under the special jurisdiction of peace, as voluntarily as an important political actor of that time? Thank you very much.
Juan Manuel Santos:
Sure. I’ll address those two questions very quickly. The assassination of environmental leaders, of promoters of voluntary substitution of the coca crops, of social leaders—that has to do precisely with the lack of implementation of the peace process, because if you read the number two point of the peace agreement, there are specific procedures precisely to address the problem of violence after the agreement was signed. Because they are not implemented, you’re seeing what you’re seeing. So it’s not the consequence of the agreement; it’s the consequence of the lack of implementation of the agreement that is causing these assassinations.
And on the second question, the answer is yes, and that’s why I personally voluntarily went to the Truth Commission, explained exactly what I have said and what I did to finish the so-called false positives. And, I even said, “I finished them but I’m sorry that I took so long to finish them,” and I asked them to put all that information to the special court, for them to take it into account in their deliberation. So that was already made.
The whole statement, which was quite long, and all the documents are in the JEP (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz). And I specifically said to send them. And I asked the president of the JEP to receive them and they did. So that’s what happened and hopefully other people will do the same.
I wonder, we can group three questions and then put them to the panel. So here, and then in the second row here, and then we’ll do a round and come back. Thank you.
Thank you so much, and thank you to all of the panelists. My name is Cristina Camacho, I work for the Howard G. Buffet Foundation and specifically on peacebuilding in Colombia. I have another Columbia specific question if you’ll allow it, but it has more to do with the ongoing conflict dynamics in the country and the role that nature and land still play in terms of illicit economies, deforestation, and what the direction should be for the new administration to tackle these ongoing dynamics in nature, and where international cooperation or where donors should be focusing their attention in that intersection of peacebuilding and nature? Thank you.
Sure. Thanks again to the sponsors and all the panelists, I’m Cindy Arnson from the Wilson Center. This has been a really fascinating conversation. And I think you’ve made very clear the connections between preserving environment, building environmental protection, and building peace. I was wondering if you could expand that a little to include the question of governance because a lot of the challenges to environmental preservation at the local level with indigenous communities and with local communities have to do with corruption, have to do, as Cristina was mentioning, with the presence of organized crime, but also authoritarianism. And beyond Columbia, these are critical issues in Central America, where we know that climate degradation, environmental degradation, is a key driver or one of the root causes of migration. I was wondering if you could reflect a little bit on the way that environment and nature and governance might be interconnected? Thank you.
María Victoria Llorente:
I’m sorry. I think that everybody, they already asked the question I wanted to, so I just want to add something. I’m María Victoria Llorente from Ideas for Peace Foundation in Columbia. I just wanted to add to what Cindy was asking, the security dimension, specifically the security dimension in Colombia, many of those issues have been addressed in recent years with military operations in some specific areas in Columbia against deforestation. And yes, the security dimension is very important, but how do we connect security, governance and peace? And I believe that, Mr. President, you have a lot of experience on that.
Juan Manuel Santos:
I’m dying to respond to that question with something we were discussing about between two journalists: how can you communicate what you need to do? And I am a great believer in storytelling. I’ll tell you a very small story on exactly that.
When I was minister of defense, with the help of the US and the UK and many other countries, I made a sort of analysis of where were the weak points of the FARC. We found out that there was a corridor that the FARC used in one of the most beautiful ecosystems in Columbia called the Páramo De Sumapaz.
For those of you who don’t know, we have some ecosystems called Páramos (there’s no English translation of the word). These are fabrics of water. These are very special ecosystems. With my former minister we sort of delimited all the 37. We have 50% of the páramos of the world. They’re only in the Andes mountains. And 50% are in Columbia. And we protect them.
But before that, when I was minister of defense, that was used as a corridor for the FARC to go into Bogotá. So I installed a high mountain battalion. And I went there, and I slept there. It was very cold, it’s almost 4,000 feet above sea level. And that was 2006 when we delimited the different páramos. I went to the border of the Sumapaz Páramo, very near Bogotá. And there was the commander of the high mountain battalion who was there to meet me and said, “Mr. President, I am Colonel X, I am the commander of the battalion that you installed here six years ago, and I want to report to you that all my soldiers are here now replanting frailejon.” There’s no translation in English—it’s a small plant called frailejon. Frailejon is the plant that produces more water in the world and it’s what makes these ecosystems so valuable. 70% of the water of our rivers come from the páramos.
I was so touched. He said, “Instead of killing guerillas, we’re replanting frailejones.” That’s a 180-degree transformation in the military approach to what their duty was. And I said, “My God, we have made some progress.”
So yes, the issue of security and governance is very important, and that has been probably the weak part of the reconciliation and reconstruction and reparation process, because we need the State to be present and the State to work because a corrupt state will not work. It’s a good State, good government in those areas. That’s why we had these development plans with a territorial approach. We identified them. And that’s what I hope we can start to build. Some of it has been done, but very little, because without governance addressing these problems of conflict and security, it is impossible.
You are very right in asking the question, and this is one of the big challenges, not only in Columbia, in every country that has fragile states and fragile areas.
Thank you. It’s a beautiful story. And I wonder perhaps if Michael, you’d like to respond to the governance question.
I’m conscious we’re running out of time, but I think one response I would offer is that security is far too important to be left to security experts. You’ve got to have a much broader definition of security that is informed by what people consider security to be. And if you look at, for example, what’s happening in the Sahel and what’s happened in recent years, the responses to the insecurity has not taken into account the strong sense of injustice that people feel about the governance arrangements. And trying to, in terms of how resources are managed, how decisions are taken, and in my view, one of the dramas we’re facing, is that we all recognize the need for greater accountability. Typically we say, “Well, that’s got to be elections.” But unfortunately, elections are very difficult to organize and have a very poor reputation in many parts of the world, not excluding places close to home.
How do you ensure that those in positions of power and responsibility are accountable? That is the key issue. And that is ultimately about governance. And the primary response to insecurity in places like the Sahel, and I’m afraid to say even in Somalia right now, is military. And a military response to the insecurity that millions of people feel is often—not always, there’s clearly a role for military engagement and so on, it’s very important—but on its own, it’s deeply, deeply insufficient, and can make things much, much worse. And what you actually need is conflict sensitive military engagement and indeed climate sensitive military engagement. And this is an area that is growing. I was so pleased, Mr. President, you began in your remarks by talking about the amount of money that’s being spent on military stuff relative to the amount of money that’s going into things like governance and peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
The area that we are talking about, I’m sorry, is still awful. It’s awful, given the amount of money, and it’s getting worse. If you look at what’s happening right now, it is sexy to politicians, and I’m wary of saying this because you’ve been a politician and I haven’t, but it’s much easier to throw military resources at things—in terms of explaining to your own public that you’re trying to do something—than talking about investing in governance and bottom-up solutions. So I think we do have a very real problem in terms of telling the story and in terms of mobilizing the political will that will result in the financial support and approaches that are needed if we’re going to succeed.
I want to thank you all. Daniela is going to ask if you might want to respond to Cristina, the question. I’m afraid we might have to do that informally. The speakers will be staying around to answer more questions. Mr. Ambassador, I’m sorry we didn’t have time to ask you to make a statement because I know we could have a whole other session with your views.
Juan Manuel Santos:
You can maybe tell them how we negotiated the frontier, very quickly. It’s a very important negotiation because it involved everybody—communities, indigenous communities—and that was your work, not mine.
Thank you very much. This is a very important topic. And President Santos has been a champion globally of connecting peace and the environment, and environment with security, in a framework that is more comprehensive, and connecting with communities.
I would like to mention two or three points that I think are very important in the case of Columbia: negotiation, obviously, and the peace agreement with FARC, which triggered some other negotiation at the regional and local level. First, the negotiation of the conservation agreement in each area of the country where we have deforestation. For example, negotiation with communities in the Chiribiquete area, in Guaviare and Caqueta. It was a very difficult negotiation to expand Chiribiquete to go from 1.5 million hectares to almost 5 million hectares. And the negotiation with Uitoto communities, indigenous communities. A lot of small negotiations that were abandoned after we left the government.
And in those negotiations also negotiation with the business sector.
When we were negotiating areas that were very optimal for agricultural development, the most difficult negotiation was with those business people and communities that were growing coffee, because they wanted to go up in the mountains where we have páramos. And negotiation with business communities that used to grow potatoes in Colombia. So those negotiations were difficult, but we were able to define their agricultural frontier. And beyond that, define areas where you can grow either potatoes or you can grow palm oil and other products. That was a very important process.
Also, I want to highlight the regulations, because within the framework of the peace agreement, we presented under President Santos’s leadership the law for payment, compensation, and payment for environmental services. That was some of the unique experience in Latin America, it was included in the peace agreement, and we developed the law and regulation for that.
Also, the carbon market, with the support of Conservation International and other organizations. Columbia was a pioneer in having carbon markets that change-
Juan Manuel Santos:
Yeah, the carbon tax that then resulted in the carbon market, that supported the carbon market. Columbia was one of 50 countries that have the carbon tax. And that changed the financial geography of funding going to environmental protection because it was going directly to communities. And now, we are moving into blue carbon with the support of organizations.
And lastly, the ethnic chapter. I think that that peace agreement is almost the only in the world, it is unique in terms of giving communities—indigenous communities and Black communities, Afro descendants—a specific chapter to respond to their needs in terms of local peacebuilding. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Ambassador Murillo. It is a great honor to have you here with us today. I want to thank our distinguished panelists very much for this insightful and inspiring conversation. Our moderator, Melanie Greenberg, thank you for orienting us in this complex field of discussion. Also, everyone here present, our audience online, our communications team at the Keough School that has worked for many months on this event. And of course, everyone here at the Keough School Washington, DC office: Maura Policelli, Karla Burgos-Morón, thank you so much for hosting us. My PAM team, Laurel Quinn and Omar Al Jamal, thank you for all your work.
And I just want to invite you, on your way to coffee, you’re going to see in the back this beautiful photographic exhibition brought to us. Thank you very much Natalia Roa from the Compaz Foundation, which was created by President Santos. These photographs have been taken by former combatants in Colombia, who are now returning with their cameras to these beautiful places. And instead of shooting, they are taking shots that put forward beautiful images and a great invitation for life, hope, and peace. I hope you have the opportunity to stop and enjoy them. Thank you everyone very much and have a wonderful day.