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Natural resources and conflict: A guide for mediation practitioners

This guide collects and summarizes good practices on the successful mediation of resource conflicts. It draws on the field experiences of mediators and mediation experts, specifically those with natural resource expertise. It also features lessons learned from UNEP’s work on environmental diplomacy in different conflict-affected countries, with a particular focus on how to use impartial technical knowledge to equalize stakeholder information in a mediation process.

Land is closely tied to conflict in many ways, both directly and indirectly. Such conflicts are fairly common given land’s centrality in many aspects of human existence, particularly in agricultural and traditional societies. When a conflict is directly about land (i.e., a land conflict per se), tension generally revolves around ownership, tenure, or access. Because land can be so economically and symbolically valuable, land disputes can involve particularly intense emotions and politicization.

A variety of natural and human-induced pressures can contribute to land degradation causing significant shifts in livelihoods, land use and migration patterns. These can range from desertification processes, changed weather patterns and climatic conditions, to the impacts of maladaptive livelihoods and unsustainable resource management. These can contribute to increasing scarcity of fertile land, and increased competition over access between livelihood groups. Understanding these critical processes of change is important both to mitigating the drivers of the conflict and to inform the viability of proposed conflict resolution solutions.