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


Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos delivers annual Hesburgh Lecture

Juan Manuel Santos, the former president of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, delivered the annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy on Tuesday evening, discussing unconventional methods of peacebuilding in the world today. Santos is a distinguished policy fellow with the Keough School of Global Affairs, where he is co-teaching a master level course.

Santos was the sole recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his key participation in ending the oldest ongoing armed conflict of the Western Hemisphere with the Colombian Peace Agreement on November 24, 2016. He has additionally received the Lamp of Peace from the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Italy and the Tipperary International Peace Award in Ireland for his work in promoting harmony in his country and region.

“Building peace is much harder than making war,” Santos proclaimed in his acceptance speech in Oslo, only a few weeks after signing the agreement. “It takes a great deal of patience, the stamina to suffer multiple setbacks along the way and the readiness to settle in for the long haul.”

In his lecture, Santos spoke on the importance of changing his methods and opinions to bring forth a more peaceful world. He reflected on the evolution of his stances on the war on drugs and the environment: from violence and indifference into peace building and advocacy. 

“You will always find unexpected obstacles and you must be willing to change your course,” Santos remarked. “Change your views without sacrificing your values or your principles.”

He also emphasized that this is no easy feat. Santos commented that every peacemaker is called a traitor when push comes to shove. The peacemaker loses political capital and must nevertheless keep on going, for the peacemaker’s role is not one of conflict but one of persuasion, he said.

 “Instead of giving orders, you have to persuade. You have to convince the people who have suffered to forgive the perpetrators and that is much more difficult,” he told the audience.

Regardless of the issue at hand, he insisted that every problem has a reachable solution.

“But don’t get discouraged. History has taught us again and again that even in the midst of darkness […], there is always a light,” he said. “A light that allows us to see a better future.”

Santos closed the 29th Annual Hesburgh Lecture with a challenge for every Notre Dame student while reinforcing the idea that anyone can make the impossible possible.

“I challenge you to lead with hope, not fear; to build bridges instead of walls; to foster solidarity and respect for diversity,” Santos said.

He followed by insisting to always place humanity first, not one’s country, religion or race. He encouraged leading with empathy, seeking opportunities in every difficulty and embracing change. Above all, he told students and future leaders to be optimistic in a world flooded with pessimism.

“If you lead with a positive mind and with the truth, you will make the world a better place,” Santos said. “And let it be said about you that one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”

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‘War and Peace’ announced as 2022-23 Notre Dame Forum theme

University President Fr. John Jenkins announced “War and Peace” as the theme of the 2022-23 Notre Dame Forum in an email Tuesday.

The Notre Dame Forum is an annual series of events — primarily consisting of lectures — designed to foster dialogue around a central theme. The Forum was founded by Jenkins in 2005, according to its website.

“Globally, conflict and violence are on the rise according to the United Nations, which has warned that peace is more under threat around the world than it has been since World War II,” Jenkins wrote.

This year’s forum includes the 29th annual Hesburgh Lecture on Sept. 13, delivered by Juan Manuel Santos, the former President of Colombia and a visiting professor at the Keough School of Global Affairs.