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Former Colombian president discusses climate, peace in Keough panel

Former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos headlined a panel on environmental protection and peacebuilding at the Keough School of Global Affairs’ Washington, D.C. office Tuesday. He and other panelists discussed the relationship between climate change and international conflict, advocating for action on environmental risks to foster peace in climate-vulnerable countries.

In September, Santos, a distinguished policy fellow with the Keough School, delivered the annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy, highlighting peacebuilding. He was joined in the panel, entitled “The Interconnectedness of Peace and Nature Conservation,” by Daniela Raik, executive vice president of field operations at the science and policy nonprofit Conservation International, and Michael Keating, executive director of the European Institute for Peace.

“The acute environmental crisis and the growing security and comfort threats we face are interconnected,” Santos said. “Every day of inaction on the environmental crisis intensifies tomorrow’s security risks.”

He offered two examples of how the climate crisis seeds political conflict. 

“Transboundary water disputes are among the biggest climate security risks,” Santos said. “Climate-induced displacement and migration exacerbates tensions and conflict if met with inflammatory politics, and we’re seeing this all around the world.”

He called on wealthy countries to invest in “environmental integrity” rather than war. 

“The USA spends over $100 billion per year on defense, but less than $6 billion dollars on international climate finance,” Santos said. “Governments must stop spending trillions of dollars per year that stoke insecurity and conflict.”

In 2016, Santos was the sole recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in shaping the Colombian Peace Accord, an agreement that ended the country’s 52-year armed conflict — the longest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere. Santos said this experience, as well as Colombia’s Indigenous population, drove his interest in environmental issues. 

“‘Make peace with the FARC,’” Santos said Indigenous leaders told him, referring to the guerrilla army with whom the Colombian government entered the Peace Accord. “‘But also, make peace with nature.’”

Calls for environmental action in Colombia track with the country’s unique climate. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country in the world and the most biodiverse per square kilometer.

Daniela Raik also emphasized the critical role of Indigenous voices in bridging grassroot efforts to government policy. 

“There is a network of Indigenous organizations that is pan-Amazonian,” she said. “And they’re coming together and they’re working with Conservation International and others as a vehicle for really bridging that gap between local action and the policy sphere.” 

Michael Keating praised Colombia’s Peace Accord for its implementation and acknowledgment of climate change.

“Climate change is not typically thought of as a formal part of peace agreements,” he said. “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.”

That mechanism is the Peace Accords Matrix, an initiative by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies that monitors and verifies the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord. According to the University, this marks the first time a collegiate research center has played such a large role in implementing a peace agreement.

Still, Keating was skeptical of current conflict prevention and resolution.

“It isn’t happening. It simply isn’t happening enough,” he said. “It’s as if the rhetoric is increasing, but the reality is not really changing that much.”

Santos related these political conflicts to environmental issues in simple terms. 

“I think we need to approach the problem of the environment as we approach the problem of human rights,” he said. “Nature, also, has rights.”

You can contact Aidan O’Malley at aomalle2@nd.edu

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Ansari Institute awards Australian Scholar with Nasr Book Prize

The Ansari Institute awarded the first annual Nasr Book Prize to Australian scholar Tyson Yunkaporta Sunday night for his book, ‘Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.’

The award, according to executive director of the Ansari Institute Mahan Mirza, was created to “recognize an author who’s written a remarkable work and contributes to fresh thinking about global issues.”

Yunkaporta, a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, Australia, said he explores global issues from an indigenous perspective in “Sand Talk.”

“I’m not sure the book was arguing anything so much as just really trying to speak from an indigenous worldview,” Yunkaporta told The Observer. “But I didn’t bother trying to explain myself and what it meant. I just looked at the world and spoke… from who I am.”

Yunkaporta, in his book, ponders the importance of intergenerational relationships. The practice of sand drawings in his culture, he said, creates traditions that can remain for far longer than physical data.

“Long after all the books crumble into dust and all the computers are just a geological layer, my children’s children’s children’s children’s children will still be drawing the same thing in the sand,” he said. “That’s the only way to safely store data, it’s in a story, intergenerational relationships.”

Mirza said temporary art, such as sand drawings, best capture how knowledge is contextual. The permanent nature of western textual knowledge, he said, can be damaging because “it’s removed from its point of origin.”

The book passed the new award’s four eligibility requirements, St. Olaf College professor of religion and philosophy Anantanand Rambachan said at the dinner. 

The award required the author to have an authentic voice, be academically informed, engage in contemporary issues of global affairs and have been published within the past five years. After listing each requirement, Rambachan quoted “Sand Talk” to show how the book qualified.

The Ansari Institute had over 30 submissions for the prize, Rambachan said, and the selection committee narrowed the pool of contestants down to five books.

“Then, we read all the five, and we unanimously said this book,” he said.

Along with honoring Yunkaporta, the dinner featured a “yarn” in which Yunkaporta conversed with Carolyn Brown, the board chair of the Fetzer Institute, about his book’s message. 

Yunkaporta demonstrated the art of sand talks for the audience at the end of the discussion, drawing symbols in a small sandbox on stage representing indigenous ideas. 

The award dinner, held at the Smith Ballroom in the Morris Inn, was part of a two-day symposium in which scholars from different religious and cultural traditions engaged with Yunkaporta’s text in different panels.

While the prize dinner focused on the book itself, the symposium’s panels sought to foster engagement with the text, Mirza explained.

“The larger project is to generate a multifaith conversation around those issues that can somehow be convened by the book that has been published,” Mirza said.

Mirza noted his belief that Notre Dame is distinctly capable of flourishing an event like the symposium.

“Such an event really is possible only at places like Notre Dame that are both committed to academic research and at the same time, where faith is important,” he said.

Contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu.