The Secretary-General’s message on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, 6 November 2010

As we look forward to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, we are reminded of the commitments made by governments nearly 20 years ago to protect the environment in times of armed conflict. Yet the environment continues to suffer in warfare, threatening the well-being of vulnerable populations and undermining prospects for lasting peace.

Nearly half the world’s people -- including the vast majority of the rural poor -- rely directly on natural resources for their daily sustenance and income. If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and prevent competition over dwindling resources from contributing to new conflicts, we must acknowledge the critical role these resources play in maintaining peace.

As global population rises and the demand for resources grows, the potential for conflicts over resources could intensify. The impacts of climate change may exacerbate these threats. In response, we will need to develop new thinking on sources of insecurity and ensure that our preventive diplomacy takes into account the trans-boundary nature of ecosystems and environmental degradation.

As I pointed out in my recent report on peacebuilding in the aftermath of conflict, 40 per cent of internal conflicts over the past 60 years were associated with land and natural resources. Efforts have already been made by the United Nations system and others to address these risks. For example, six United Nations entities have recently partnered with the European Union to help countries use natural resource management for peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

However, we must invest even more in policies, institutions and actions that relieve and manage environmental stress factors. On this International Day, let us acknowledge the unique role our natural resource base plays in averting conflict and building lasting peace, and let us recommit to protecting the environment during times of war.