On Friday (12 October 2007) the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Al Gore (the former vice president of the USA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be rewarded with this year’s Nobel Peace Price. The motivation presented by the committee was the following: “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.“
Irrespective of both Al Gore’s long lasting commitment to environmental issues and the IPCC’s contribution to the creation of a consensus regarding the connection between human activities and global warming, however, for many the political (and/or moral) issue of environmental protection is only remotely connected to international peace.
But to say that the condition of the global environment has no interconnection with international peace would be a grave misinterpretation; yet the connection is a complex one. Already many contemporary conflicts are identifiable to be directly or indirectly linked to the results of the changing global climate; whether the climate change is caused by humans or not is another question. As an example the Darfur Conflict is the result of inter alia decades of drought, desertification and overpopulation. It is expected by many that the number of such conflicts (national as well as international ones), categorisable as a “struggle for resources”, will be numerous in the future. But not only the shortage in resources caused by the human activities is assumed to have a direct impact on the peaceful relations within the international community. The Nobel Committee, in its motivation, pointed towards additional, more complex scenarios:
“Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.“
This reasoning sounds very similar to the way public international law, during the past decades, has attempted to approach the concept of civil war: While the literal threshold to the taking of military enforcement measures pursuant to Chapter VII UN Charter is the “threat to the peace” or a “breach of the peace” (or an act of aggression), which is commonly acknowledged to refer to “international” peace only, efforts were undertaken to dogmatically subsume various internal conflicts under the concept of “threat to/breach of the peace” in order to open up the catalogue of measures in Chapter VII UN Charter (mainly enforcement measures under Arts 41-42 UN Charter) to such conflicts. One such effort was the underlining of large scale migration (i.e. refugees) due to internal conflicts. For example, the UN Security Council considered the “Kurdish situation” in the northern Iraq in 1991 to constitute a “threat to international peace and security”; with its Resolution 688 of 5 April 1991 the UN Security Council for the first time determined a threat to peace without referring to the use of force between States. Instead, the vast number of Kurdish refugees was the central transboundary criterion.
Are the first signs of the same tentative approach recognizable when it comes to the role of the protection of global environment in the concept of international peace? Is the concept of “peace” in international law expanding to include environmental considerations?