Geneva Peace Week 2021: Creating a Climate for Collaboration

By Mariam Kerfai

Repost from The Graduate Press.

The fourth day of the Geneva Peace Week (GPW) followed the thematic track of ‘Creating a Climate for Collaboration: Ways Forward for Environment, Climate Change, and Peace.’

I had the opportunity to attend two virtual workshops. The first, “Climate Change and Security in Somalia: A Practitioner’s Perspective” was moderated by Christophe Hodder, Climate Security Advisor at United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, UNSOM, and Molly Kellogg, Gender, Environment, and Security Advisor at UNEP. The session brought together peacebuilding practitioners from various regional and professional backgrounds, who shared  experiences and insights on addressing the links between climate change and conflict in Somalia/Somaliland, where climate and environmental crises are compounding long standing threats to peace.  

While not a direct cause, climate change is a major contributor of conflict and instability in Somalia/Somaliland: it has affected pastoral livelihoods, escalated internal displacement (75% is due to climate change), and prompted armed groups to use natural resources not only as  means of income but also of control. 

After a brief introduction, the moderators split participants into two breakout rooms. In one, presentations were delivered by speakers from the Berghof Foundation – Nora Rathje, Project Manager at the Middle East and North Africa Unit, and Janel B. Galvanek, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa Unit, – and Lana Goral, Program Manager, Migration Environment & Climate Change Unit, IOM Somalia. All three practitioners discussed an ongoing project in Galmudug, Somalia, which is jointly carried out by Berghof, Adelphi, UNEP, and IOM. This multidisciplinary endeavor engages with multiple partners and aims to bring distinct and complementary expertise together for designing an integrated approach to addressing climate security risks in the region. This is done by including climate change and environmental degradation in their analyses which, in turn, informs and guides their peacebuilding programming.

In the second room, we got to learn about Somali/Somaliland Civil Society engagement. Practitioners Hassan Mowlid Yasin, the Vice-chairperson of Somali Greenpeace Association (SOGPA) and Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, the Chairman of Candlelight for Health, Education and Environment in Hargeisa, ‘Somaliland’, shared their work in the community, ranging from environmental restoration and resource management, youth education, awareness-raising, and advocacy. Awale shared with us that the peace and stability gained thus far has allowed for increased activity and has made it possible for him to discover new species of fauna and flora. When asked by a staff member of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform on how the knowledge hub, other organizations and platforms like GPW, and the Geneva community at large has supported them so far, Yasin and Awale responded that support has been helpful as these platforms enable visibility, foster information and experience sharing and networking, and offer potential funding opportunities. 

The second workshop I attended, “Navigating the Waters of Environmental Peace Negotiation” was co-organized by the Geneva Water Hub and the GISA Environmental Committee (EC) of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID). The EC Team, composed of Khaliun Purevsuren, Hugo Brandam, Clara Danbakli, and Ryan Maia, along with Christian Bréthaut, Assistant Professor at University of Geneva (Department of Geography and Environment) and Scientific Director of the Geneva Water Hub and Léna Salamé, international public law lawyer specializing in water and conflict management, did a fantastic job of creating an informative and collaborative atmosphere.  

Rightly dubbed the ‘Blue Planet’, 70% of Earth’s surface is composed of water but only 1% of this water is easily accessible to the nearly eight billion people vying for this vital resource. This situation equates to, as Bréthaut called it, a ‘perfect storm’, leading to 37 conflicts and 200+ agreements related to environmental issues since 1948. Within this context of increasing pressures on water resources due to climate change and human activity, participants had the opportunity to become actors of an imaginary, parallel narrative where geopolitical competition played out. 

Participants were randomly divided into four groups, becoming the citizens of four imaginary countries (breakout rooms): A, A’, B, and B’. Country A was further paired with A’, and B with B’. Each pair shared a water basin and was tasked with choosing how to invest in water supply infrastructure in seven rounds, with each round representing one year. Equipped with a handout of the simulation’s rough guidelines, each ‘country’ had to reach a consensus to adopt one of three strategies – invest heavily, moderately or not at all –  in order to maximize its interests, while considering the impacts of their choices on nature and natural resources. Each country’s decision affected its pair country and vice versa, resulting in the gain, loss or no accumulation of points. 

The first few rounds occurred with no communication at all between the pair countries but then the imaginary UN ratified a new agreement to allow each country to choose and send an ambassador. I was elected by my team to act as ambassador for my country and met with the other country’s ambassador to negotiate. My country was behind in points, but I was able to establish trust and agree with the other ambassador to adopt a mutually benefitting strategy of investing moderately for the remainder of the rounds. Other sudden ‘high-stakes’ interventions took place concurrently, such as five-fold and ten-fold increases in points for some rounds of negotiations and the last round of negotiations being cancelled altogether.  

It was interesting to see, given limited instructions, how each team interpreted the objectives of the simulation – prioritizing winning points or collaborating and building a relationship with their counterparts or investing sustainably, or various combinations of the three. The time constraints during the rounds also emphasized the importance of preparation and collaboration. 

In her closing remarks, Salamé thanked all attendees for their participation and highlighted some key points and parallels between our simulation and real-life negotiations. She stressed that, given the same set of facts, there are as many interpretations as there are actors. It is through dialogue that we can bring one another to the same interpretation, or at least invite the ‘other’ to think like us and vice versa. She also underlined the importance, especially in the context of interdependence, of building long-term relationships and trust; the latter must first be built but most importantly maintained because, once broken, it is almost impossible to restore. 

Geneva Peace Week 2021 was held between November 1st and 5th, 2021 covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information about the week here.

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