Environmental Cooperation Bringing Hostile Nations Together

Frustrated by the glacial pace and pestersome bureaucracy of major international treaties and conventions, a new generation of environmental activists is turning its focus to “environmental peacekeeping”: local, grassroots efforts to forge cooperation on ecosystem preservation among neighboring nations with a history of conflict. Activists say that, rather than provoking further conflict, shared environmental challenges often serve as an opportunity for geopolitical opponents to reach rapprochement. Joint conservation projects are underway between rival nations such as Russia and Kazakhstan; Peru and Ecuador; and China and Vietnam. “There’s not much in the way of political stakes, so if all fails there’s not nearly the embarrassment there would be on a cooperative deal on the economy or military,” says environmental consultant Mary Matthews. “The environment is just a nice soft-political backdoor way for countries to get along.”