Junior Scholars Review Environmental Peacebuilding Literature

March 2, 2021

By Rohini Thakkar and Gianluca Corinaldesi

Environmental Peacebuilding: Comparative Dimensions Webinar at Duke University

Scholars and Duke alumnae McKenzie Frances Johnson and Luz Angela Rodríguez spoke on February 18, 2021 at the DUCIGS event: “Junior Scholars in Conversation: Comparative Dimensions of Environmental Peace Building.”  The webinar marked the closing of the Environmental Peacebuilding/Colombia Arc series and provided a discussion on comparative interstate environmental peace building.

McKenzie Frances Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Luz Angela Rodríguez is an Assistant Professor at the School of Rural and Environmental Studies, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.

The speakers have each conducted research in Colombia, as well as Mexico, Peru, and the United States, among other countries, both independently and collaboratively and offer diverse experience and perspectives on comparative environmental peacebuilding. 

The event was moderated by Alex Pfaff, Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Environment at the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Introduction by Miguel Rojas Sotelo, Adjunct professor in International and Global Studies at Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS.)

The series was hosted by the Environmental Peacebuilding Association (EnPAx), the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies/Rethinking Diplomacy Program (DUCIGS/RDP), the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). The events will culminate in the “Environmental Governance for Peace in Colombia” conference taking place virtually on March, 18, 2021.

Watch the full webinar:

Excerpts from the webinar:


McKenzie Frances Johnson

Environmental peacebuilding literature has really evolved as a field, looking at cooperation between states. And we felt that there was a critical mass of research that was now looking at the concept within as a state building mechanism and post conflict contexts, and so we wanted to review the literature and see what was happening. So, our approach to this review was really just to identify any scholarship or any scholars that were working on environmental peacebuilding. A review can be a really nice way to get a great grasp of the literature that's out there, but also to produce work which you're always incentivized to do. And so, it's a really great way without having to generate money for fieldwork, you just review a bunch of papers with hopefully a team to make it less time intensive and then you can produce a great article.”


McKenzie Frances Johnson

Early on in this kind of literature, people were really looking at peace as the absence of violence or conflict. We talked about this in terms of a negative peace where whatever intervention you're bringing to a specific context, really just stops conflict from happening over natural resources. But researchers have made a lot of progress in kind of thinking about how do you actually solidify that so such that you're building something more than just the absence of violence. And we think about this in terms of four different expressions of peace. So, building a common identity, which includes positive symbolic relations building trust between groups. The next step for us is building capabilities which really comes out of Amartya Sen’s human capabilities approach. So to people on the ground have options to change what is happening to them in an environmental or social sense. This really builds also on the literature on human security. And then, last dimension of peace which really suggests a very positive form of peace is social and political integration which even after this paper is still a fuzzy concept. What does it actually mean when you create positive forms of trans societal interdependence? That's how we define it. But I think we're still trying to figure out what exactly that means.

Peacebuilding Gradient


Luz Angela Rodríguez

Our sample included articles that found natural resource management (NRM) initiatives to have an overall positive (N=20), negative (N=13), or mixed (N=35) effect on peacebuilding (N=11 coded as other). Capabilities could have a larger potential to help in this environmental peacebuilding. The mechanisms that appear more frequently are livelihoods, inclusion, equity. These aspects are more related to individual or community governance, and those are more frequently related to positive outcomes.


McKenzie Frances Johnson

Results corroborate the idea that environmental peacebuilding is context-dependent. It is possible to find overarching patterns across qualitative case studies by systematically deconstructing NRM-conflict-peace linkages to examine individual drivers. NRM contributes directly and indirectly to peacebuilding efforts. NRM contributes directly and indirectly to peacebuilding efforts. It contributes most frequently to building peace as shared identity and capabilities at the individual or community level. Environmental peacebuilding many have a comparative advantage in building peace as capabilities. NRM can also have a negative or mixed effect of peacebuilding efforts. NRM initiatives were able to contribute directly to forms of peace at local levels, but often these effects did not “scale up”.


McKenzie Frances Johnson

52% of articles were solely authored by men, and this percentage increases to 66% when considering the first-author position. 82% of articles analyzed conflict-peace dynamics within Global South countries but only 23% of those articles actually include an author from the country under study. This has really important implications for understanding context and actually be able to tell causal stories about what is happening in these countries.”


McKenzie Frances Johnson

It's been really well received and so it's been getting a lot of attention, I think it's also. We were fortuitous and writing this paper, just as the environmental peace building association was coming really online and full force, and so they have been hosting. As this is part of that numerous kinds of talks and conferences on environmental peace building and so that has really helped kind of generate interest in support in the paper. Our hope is that it continues to shape how people look at and study, especially interested environmental peacebuilding.


Luz Angela Rodríguez

I don't think there is a link between migration and this building, at least not in a negative sense and I don't think that immigration could be affecting what the government could or should do in order to build peace in this peace process. I don't think it could affect the implementation of the process of building peace in Columbia.


McKenzie Frances Johnson

What happens if you're engaged in community initiatives or community peace building and those communities have to interface with the state and a lot of papers what we saw was that had a really negative effect on community perceptions of the peace building process. I saw this a lot in my Afghanistan work, and I think it's because communities, all of a sudden see how variable state building can be. And so that's actually really reduced confidence in the peace building process because people think - Can the state really do this? Can the state deliver on what it's promising? Are these institutions really working? In any country, you have that kind of uncertainty, but we saw this real effect and so that's how we coded it. This issue is so important in Colombia, that is something that we're really interested in trying to bring out and really define - What is it? Is it state legitimacy? Is it this kind of perception of the state and what it's supposed to do for communities?