Conflict sensitivity and policymakers
One of the ambitions of the CoCooN programme was to increase the sensitivity of policymakers to conflicts around natural resources. So expectations were high at the beginning of the last CoCooN Conference. How would the policymakers respond to the results? And what strategies can be developed to increase conflict sensitivity?
CoCooN was also about bringing research and policy together. One of the challenges facing researchers is how to make their work more relevant and useful. They can have an impact by investigating practical social issues and addressing policymakers. This is not always easy. Some researchers are afraid of losing their independence and feel they should be driven primarily by academic curiosity. They also have difficulty connecting the world outside to their own academic sphere. The idea of CoCooN was that if academics had to work with NGOs they would be tempted to cross the bridge towards policymaking and address policy-relevant issues, and that NGOs and activists could help them to reach out – all this with the aim of making policymakers more sensitive to conflicts around natural resources.
Crossing bridges is not easy. Many issues have to be dealt with, including practical ones like how to connect long-term academic research with short-time information needs. But the disconnect is not entirely on the side of the academics. A telling moment at the conference occurred during a breakout session on the implementation of sustainability and human rights norms. Before delivering her presentation on the international legal aspects, researcher Kinanya Pijl asked how many policymakers were present. A silence fell. After some time one young woman raised her hand hesitantly. She explained that she was not really involved in the decision making process, but worked as a trainee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.On the participants list were the names of academics, activists and members of NGOs from all over the world, all very eager to exchange ideas with policymakers. But the problem was the policymakers were heavily outnumbered. The absence of policymakers was certainly a missed opportunity, because the issues discussed were very relevant to them.
An opportunity to discuss
The big question in the break-out session of Pijl was how to protect the natural environment and the local population against the negative impacts of the large-scale production of palm oil and soy and the activities of the timber logging industry. The findings of the CoCooN project Land and Rights on Troubled Water (LAR) help to answer that question. One of its main conclusions is that the present regulatory, monitoring and enforcement arrangements fail to protect local communities in the Amazon.
Several issues were raised during the discussion:
- The first is how to strengthen the legal position of local groups living on the frontline of the fight for the natural resources by making the legal procedures more available to them. One of Pijl’s policy recommendations was to make it easier for them to issue complains or start legal proceedings against governments or multinationals.
- Another suggestion was to improve independent local monitoring. Here the local groups living on the frontline can play a crucial role, said Tim Boekhout van Solinge from Utrecht University, the coordinator of the LAR project. Of course, governments and international organizations already do a lot of monitoring, but there is a huge gap between the reality presented to policymakers in official reports and the reality on the ground. Corruption, outright criminality and non-independent monitoring (for example by researchers hired by the same multinationals that are engaged in the activities they have to monitor) are not the only factors to be accounted for. Sometimes very creative ways are found to evade rules and regulations. One example is the way deforestation is officially measured, in which only plots of more than 25 hectares are recorded. This is evaded by deforesting several smaller plots for new soy plantations instead of one big plot.
- A third suggestion was to shift regulatory and monitoring activities to the North. Why not block imports of soya for which Western standards for herbicide applications are exceeded? This could be done by monitoring the soya coming into Northern harbours like Rotterdam (the residues of herbicide can be measured). This will not have a positive effect on health in the North, but it will remove the economic incentive to use herbicides in the producing countries.
The value of exchange with policymakers
The discussions at the other breakout sessions were equally relevant to policymakers. One was with Alexandra Urán and Marjo de Theije of the GOMIAM-project. Dirk-Jan Koch, special envoy for natural resources at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, moderated the session. In this session the objective was to discuss GOMIAM lessons with commercial and NGO parties that invest in the gold mining sector in the Amazon. Urán discussed with Fabeel Butt – who represented the Fair Gold program of Max Havelaar Foundation – about the Colombian Oro Verde (Green Gold) experience. De Theije talked with Andor Lips, Director Metals and Mining Finance of ING about the Banks investments. In Suriname, in the territory of the Paamaka Maroons, who used to make a living of small scale gold mining, a large-scale gold mine was built. Shouldn’t the Dutch government and private sector take responsibility for the negative consequences for the local population, and work for more inclusive development strategies? De Theije suggested that this should be addressed when we talk about combining aid and trade.
The value of a direct exchange of ideas between the project members and policymakers became apparent in the breakout session on sustainable small-scale fisheries, in which a presentation was given about the REINCORPFISH project on small-scale fishing. The project illustrates well the complexity of the problems facing policymakers: the problem of overfishing in the fishing grounds near the borders by trawlers; a social conflict, because the fishers in Sri Lanka belong to the Tamil minority; a political dimension involving conflicts of interest between the region and the national state; the implications of international law on fishing rights; and an economically driven conflict between small-scale fishing and large-scale fishing.
What added value to this presentation was the contribution by two policymakers at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs (Lianne Kersbergen and Gelare Nader) about international agreements on fishing rights and EU law-making. They presented tough dilemmas regarding the rights of small-scale fishers and sustainable fishing. If we really want to be conflict sensitive, they argued, we have to look at the big picture of international competition. What use is it to ban or strictly regulate the European fishery sector, if Chinese or Russian fleets, which have much less regard for the interests of local fisherman and sustainability, take their place? They also pointed out that most policies are European, limiting the playing field of national policies.
CoCooN goes for conflict sensitivity
So a key requirement for conflict sensitivity is a supply of relevant information and analysis. On this score, the aggregated CoCooN results could provide plenty of material for a guidebook on political sensitivity. For example, the NEBE project focusing on nationalization and state activism in the extractive industries in Bolivia and Peru teaches us the same lesson as the LAR project: the importance of real-time on the ground information from the frontline to the process of policymaking and monitoring. But it adds the notion that new technology enables this – not just with digital cameras, laptops and smart phones, but also by providing local communities with drones to register deforestation and oil spills. One of the conclusions of the ‘Groundwater in the political domain’ project is that policymakers and NGOs are too quick to target their interventions at the national level. In a country like Yemen it is better to intervene at a ‘user level’, because at a national level there is no interest in the subject at all. In the political context of Pakistan, it is best to intervene at the district level. The Jatropha project teaches us about the effect of hypes (in this case Jatropha as a biofuel), which can lead policymakers astray all over the world, binding them to undesirable side effects.
The demand side
The other key condition for conflict sensitivity is on the demand side: policymakers should become more receptive to possible drivers of conflict and more willing to take the time to absorb relevant research and information. During the different panel discussions suggestions were made on how to increase political awareness. Some of these were addressed to researchers.
- Reina Buijs, director-general for international cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said they should be more communicative and realise that an academic article has an average of five readers. And those readers are not policymakers because, like embassy diplomats, they suffer from a chronicle lack of time.
- The answer is to keep it short and simple, like policy briefs, suggested Marion van Schaik, senior policy advisor water & environment at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But it was also commonly acknowledged that this alone would not do the trick.
- Dirk-Jan Koch suggested that training courses and workshops might help, arguing that policymakers should learn to be more aware of possible drivers of conflicts when taking investment decisions, for example. Of course, there are checklists that address certain conflict issues, but this is not enough. Such training courses could also include techniques for making better use of research and knowledge.
- Another idea, proposed by Danielle Hirsch of the Dutch NGO Both ENDS, is to ‘force’ conflict sensitivity into the decision-making and monitoring process. She agreed with Tim Boekhout van Solinge that independent local monitoring was crucial when dealing with local resources and suggested making such monitoring a mandatory condition before engaging in infrastructural programmes or when signing trade agreements.
A new generation of CoCooN?
Reina Buijs argued that interest in conflict sensitivity is also related to the political climate. In her speech she recalled that the development of the CoCooN programme was triggered by the fact that the theme of conflict and cooperation on natural resources was heavily debated among Dutch policymakers in the 1990s. She argued that in the present debate about migration and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq there is a growing awareness that the issue of conflicts over natural resources needs to be acknowledged. Overexploitation of groundwater resources, drought resulting from climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices are among the drivers of migration and conflict. There may well be a need for policy-relevant research knowledge and CoCooN-like programmes on these issues too.
Blog written by Michiel Zonneveld of The Broker