The Perfect Recipe for Conflict
Unfortunately, similar conflicts are playing out all over the world.
The world population is predicted to approach 9 billion by 2050, with
global demand for energy, food, minerals and other resources
skyrocketing as a result. Unsurprisingly, the development required to
meet these demands is likely to have significant impacts on the natural
systems that support both human and wildlife populations.
Sprinkle in threatened and endangered species and local communities
whose livelihoods, health and well-being depend directly on the services
that flow to them from nature; stir in countries trying desperately to
provide for people living in poverty and companies making huge
investments to develop natural resources; bake all of this into a
regulatory process that often separates how and by whom decisions are
made about development and conservation—what you have is the perfect
recipe for conflict.
We can’t strike the right balance between development and
conservation, and avoid conflicts between competing interests, unless we
become proactive in our planning—we need to better understand where and how
development is likely to happen and what and where we need to conserve.
But development planning is largely a reactive process. We’re currently
developing the world like builders working without a blueprint—there’s
no master plan or vision to guide us.
I can’t know what ultimately happened to Sumbee, and I obviously
don’t condone the attacks perpetrated against him—but I can understand
how the system in place leads to fear and frustration. Companies seeking
to develop natural resources often invest huge sums of money to
purchase exploration leases and investigate whether there are
economically viable resources available, and then they pay additional
fees to secure development permits and conduct the Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) process.
But the EIA process is largely inadequate for identifying potential
conflicts between conservation priorities and development objectives in a
proactive way. EIAs typically occur at a small spatial scale and only
in reaction to interest in a particular development proposal.
In Tost Uul, the companies in question were granted development
licenses by Mongolian Ministry of Mining and Mineral Resources, while at
the same time the protected areas designation was under consideration
by the Mongolian Ministry of Environmental and Green
Development—obviously with limited coordination. This demonstrates why
the reactive nature of the EIA process is a problem; it doesn’t allow
for the opportunity to jointly evaluate and meet conservation and
development goals, setting the stage for conflict.
Baking a Better Plan
In our new book, Energy Sprawl Solutions,
Dave Naugle and I lay out what we think is the recipe to help avoid
this type of conflict. The key ingredient to the potential success of
this approach lies in its timing. By working proactively, priority
conservation areas and recommended conservation practices are identified
at the beginning of the project life cycle—before investments are made
and licenses granted.
Two important outcomes can be achieved from understanding
biodiversity and important ecosystem values and the recommended
practices to minimize impacts of proposed development before development
licenses are granted. First, this enables companies to avoid impacts to
the most valuable ecological resources, and where development must
proceed, to include guidelines, policies, and requirements for
environmentally-conscious practices in contractual documents.
Second, this enables companies to help all parties involved manage
the environmental and economic risks from development and inform
decision-making processes so as to optimize the achievement of the
multiple objectives in our working landscapes—before ecological values
are irretrievably lost and before livelihoods are profoundly and
negatively impacted. Making this investment up front will, in the long
term, help secure financial investments and hopefully reduce conflicts
that lead to violence.
Planning in Action
The Mongolian government has embraced proactive planning, enacting
the framework we’re advocating for into law and committing to protecting
an impressive 30 percent of the country. There has already been real
progress on that commitment; in roughly the last five years, the
government has designated 150,000 square kilometers of new protected
areas—an area approximately the size of the country of Nepal. This clear
determination of conservation priorities should help avoid land use
conflicts like those seen in Tost Uul.
Still, there needs to be a thorough investigation into Sumbee’s
death. A lack of transparency around what actually happened could impact
the security of those committed to protecting and conducting research
in Mongolia, and ultimately affect tourism there. When it comes to
avoiding land-use conflict, the stakes could not be higher.