Parks for peace
As a new graduate, my mind is constantly connecting what I do with what I studied. I started my academic career in international relations, focusing on water management and how the two co-exist. The (simplified) theory is that cooperating around water management can lessen conflict and foster peace between neighbouring countries.
My academic career focused almost solely on water management until the latter half of my master’s degree, when I started reading and engaging more with the role of protected areas, including conflict resolution. My research led me to a large array of literature on the topic of Peace Parks.
Peace Parks, also referred to as parks for peace, are protected areas that promote peace and cooperation. The term originates from the creation of the Waterton Lakes Glacier International Peace Park formed between Canada and the United States in 1932. This Peace Park neighbours the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Waterton Natural Area in Alberta, and has since expanded to refer to protected areas that help build and sustain peace.
The existence of transboundary protected areas encourages countries and/or communities to work toward shared conservation interests. Ongoing conversations and partnerships can translate into a more trusting relationship and a general willingness to cooperate. The theory suggests that the parties involved in creating and maintaining a protected area are more likely to work together rather than against each other. The protected area, then, becomes a potential opportunity for cooperation.
After studying conflicts, wars and the long list of potentially disastrous outcomes of international interactions (both in politics and in how we treat the natural environment), I was attracted to this optimism and hopefulness. Of course, there are plenty of criticisms of the theory, but I naively believe that most adversaries can and will cooperate if it makes sense for long-term environmental sustainability.
It’s important to note that Peace Parks do not necessarily have immediate results (protecting a forest probably won’t instantly stop long-term conflict), but can contribute to the long-term process of creating and maintaining peace.
It’s an intriguing thought (to me at least) that while protecting and conserving natural areas and wildlife we can also be uniting adversaries. Protected areas not only provide positive environmental benefits, they can also provide an opportunity for neighbouring regions (both at an international and local level between communities and landowners) to work together toward positive change. If protected areas are understood as both a means of protecting and conserving the natural environmental, as well as a means of establishing or maintaining peaceful relations, the creation of such a space becomes even more appealing. The unrestricted potential of Peace Parks is an optimistic, exciting possibility that only adds to the value of protected areas.