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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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Alumni lectures on environmental ‘triple threat’

The “environment is a threat multiplier, whether it’s climate change, the loss of biodiversity or pollution,” said Valerie Hickey, the Kroc Institute’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, in her lecture at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Tuesday afternoon.

Hickey, who received her Master of Arts from Notre Dame in 2000, is the global director for environment, natural resources and the blue economy at the World Bank. In her lecture, Hickey detailed the ways in which climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — what she calls the “triple threat” — exacerbate conflict and poverty throughout the world.

“We know that from 1946 to 2010, 40% of interstate conflict was made worse by — or paid for by — environmental crime and the loss of biodiversity,” Hickey said. “A quarter of conflicts between 2014 and 2018 were fights over natural resources.”

Hickey warned that as climate change has a more pronounced impact on the world, these conflicts over natural resources will only increase.

“For every one-degree-Celsius increase in global temperature, we’re going to see domestic violence rise by 2.42% and intergroup violence rise by 11.3%,” she said.

Hickey detailed that by 2050, in places such as Mali, GDP could decrease by 6.5% every year as a result of the environmental triple threat. In Nigeria, a 53% loss and in Ghana, a 60% loss in fishing stock is expected as a result of climate change and a lack of biodiversity, she said. Currently, 70 million people earn their living from the fishing industry in West Africa.

While recognizing the severity of the problems caused by climate change, a lack of biodiversity and pollution, Hickey also acknowledged that there is no easy solution to these problems. Perhaps the most immediately pressing obstacle is a lack of capital.

“In 2020, there was $632 billion spent on climate finance,” Hickey stated, “That’s a lot less than the $4 trillion that was needed.”

Hickey said that a big part of this problem stems from the fact that many in Western nations are — perhaps rightfully so — hesitant to commit their tax dollars to help other countries deal with the effects of climate change.

“Eleven percent of Americans and 39 million people live below the poverty line in this country,” Hickey noted. “Are we going to ask the families in Flint, Michigan who can’t get clean water out of their pipes to pay for climate emissions in China? There’s not such an easy answer.”

In addition to the lack of investment into solutions to climate change, Hickey said there is also a dispute over how the money that is spent ought to be allocated.

“If we’re spending 93% percent of climate finance on mitigation, we’re sacrificing current generations who don’t have the coping strategies to deal with climate change today, for the interests of future generations,” she said. “That’s not climate justice either.”

While much of Hickey’s lecture centered on the devastating effects of climate change and the barriers to solutions, she highlighted the fact that these issues are being addressed — even if progress is slow.

“We’re also finally seeing the emergence of leadership that is much stronger than we’ve seen in a while and people standing up for what’s right and for good, even though they have to sacrifice,” Hickey said.

You can contact Liam Kelly at lkelly8@nd.edu