The results arising from the QCA offer new insight into the implicit normative content of UNEP’s environmental peacebuilding policy framework. However, it should be noted that the results are limited to how the framework is expressed in the documents, and do not necessarily reflect how UNEP operations are conducted in the real world. As anticipated, the policy framework defined by the reports largely stem from a belief that there is a causal relationship between natural resources and armed conflict. Building on this risk perception, all four reports propose that natural resource issues be incorporated into the peacebuilding agenda. The reports do not make a distinction between non-renewable and renewable natural resources, and primarily focus on the intrastate level. In this section, empirical findings are presented according to the four frames that determine ownership of environmental peacebuilding processes: portrayal of actors, solutions, knowledge, and effective control of implementation processes.
Portrayal of actors
As stressed earlier, the type and portrayal of actors referred to within the policy framework is very important. Here, the findings lead to two important observations, the first being that the main focus of the reports is on domestic actors, both state and non-state. However, these actors are hypothetical, rather than specific actors with the actual agency in a post-conflict context. This leads to the second observation, illustrated in Fig. 2, that domestic state and non-state actors are negatively portrayed in the reports. Domestic non-state actors are portrayed negatively in 33% of coded segments (N = 346), while domestic state actors are portrayed negatively in 40% of coded segments.
Table 3 presents percentages showing how different actor groups are portrayed in each of the reports. Across all portrayals (positive and negative) of all actor groups (domestic and international), negative portrayals are overwhelmingly applied to domestic state and non-state actors, with the next most commonly expressed opinion only a third as prevalent. In other words, in 73% of cases where an opinion is expressed about an actor group, it is a negative opinion about domestic actors. There are, however, a couple of notable caveats within this. The 2013b report is the only one where domestic state actors are not the most negatively portrayed actor. Due to the report’s focus on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), a large number of coded segments deal with armed groups, which may explain why 40% of segments contain negative portrayals of domestic non-state actors, compared to 33% for domestic state actors. Meanwhile, the 2013a report, which deals with the role of women, has the highest percentage of positive portrayals of domestic non-state actors at 18% (in the other reports, this percentage ranges between 0 and 3.6%). This is largely explained by the report’s more emancipatory language about enhancing women’s capability, whereas the other reports typically highlight domestic non-state actors’ lack of capacity.
While these frequencies provide a general summary of the documents, nuances exist as to why and how certain actor groups are portrayed positively or negatively. For example, domestic state actors and institutions are predominantly portrayed as lacking state capacity and/or being corrupt. An example of this can be seen in the 2009 report (for further examples consult the Electronic Supplementary Material (ESM)):
The common trait in these three situations is the inability of weak states to resolve resource-based tensions peacefully and equitably. Indeed, conflict over natural resources and the environment is largely the reflection of a failure of governance or a lack of capacity. As demands for resources continue to grow, this conclusion highlights the need for more effective investment in environmental and natural resource governance.
(‘From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment’, 2009, p. 13).
Regarding the negative portrayal of domestic non-state actors, the nuances point toward differing narratives, rather than sentiments. Though this category conflates civilians with armed groups, it is important to emphasize that negative portrayals are not solely applied to the latter—in fact, the analysis shows that both types of non-state actor are portrayed negatively. In terms of armed groups, the negative portrayal is based around a narrative of greed, in which rebels exploit natural resources for personal gain, and to finance continued rebellion. An example of this can be seen in the 2013b report (for further examples consult the Electronic Supplementary Material (ESM)):
In such contexts, research suggests that the formation of insurgent armed groups is more likely. This becomes a particular security risk where economically valuable natural resources can be easily obtained by artisanal, high-labour and low-industrial means (termed ‘lootable’). Consequently, these resources and their supply chains can be relatively easily co-opted and used to support belligerent activities by armed groups.
(‘The Role of Natural Resources in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration’, 2013b, p. 18).
By contrast, civilians are typically seen as victims of circumstance. Even so, they are portrayed as a problem, as they are exploiting or depleting natural resources due to a lack of choice or personal skills. An example of this can be seen in the 2015 report (for further examples consult the Electronic Supplementary Material (ESM)):
Training in interest-based negotiation and related technical skills can be an effective way to balance negotiation capacities. This can be particularly important with groups that tend to be socially marginalized, such as indigenous people, women, or youth.
(‘Natural Resources and Conflict: A Guide for Mediation Practitioners’, 2015, p. 33).
Solutions and knowledge
The analysis aimed to identify the types of solutions proposed in the reports. Are these universal solutions potentially applicable in every case, or are they contextual solutions that emphasize context-specific circumstances? To deepen understanding of the proposed policies’ implicit normative content, the analysis mapped the knowledge source required to support the solutions. Whether such knowledge is deemed domestic or international provides an indication of perceived power relations between actors. Looking at the results, three important observations arise: (1) universal solutions and international knowledge dominate; (2) domestic knowledge plays a subordinate role; and (3) context matters, but only to a limited degree.
Table 4 presents the types of solutions featured in the reports. More than 69 percent of coded segments propose universal solutions, ranging between 62.5 and 76.79% across the reports. This variation between reports reveals a small, yet interesting, development, with the 2013b and the 2015 reports showing a lower number of universal solutions compared to the 2009 and 2013a reports, which show a higher frequency of contextual and/or domestic solutions. However, when these results are compared with those for knowledge (Table 5), it becomes clear that this increased focus on context does not signify increased appreciation of domestic knowledge. Rather, the contrary appears true, as the 2013b and 2015 reports show greater reference to international knowledge than 2009 and 2013a. Closer inspection reveals this emphasis on context is due to the role of various natural resources, with domestic knowledge apparently not considered relevant when it comes to addressing these issues. Instead, the majority of segments address international expert knowledge. The perceived importance of international knowledge in the environmental peacebuilding framework is illustrated in Table 5, with 90% of all coded segments referencing such knowledge, compared to only 10% for domestic knowledge. In the 2009, 2013b and 2015 reports, this figure is even lower, at just above 7.5%.
Nevertheless, comparing the reports does reveal relevant differences. Of the four, the 2013a report has the highest representation of domestic knowledge. Overall, it appears that the focus on women as domestic actors exerts a strong influence on the policy framework’s shape, resulting in the potential of domestic non-state actors being emphasized more than is the case for the other reports:
At the local level, in particular, the knowledge and experience women may have of a particular natural resource due to their roles and responsibilities can provide a clear entry point to involve them in decision-making processes. In the Iraqi marshlands, for example, male leaders have welcomed women’s participation in deciding how to manage local water resources.
(‘Women and Natural Resources: Unlocking the Peacebuilding Potential’, 2013a, p. 35).
This emphasis is not confined to female-specific knowledge, but ‘due to the gender-specific roles in forestry, both women and men possess unique knowledge and skills that, if properly tapped into during DDR programmes, can create productive, comprehensive and environmentally sound new livelihoods in the forestry sector’ (‘The Role of Natural Resources in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration’, 2013b, page 40). However, it does not appear that this emphasis on domestic knowledge had any substantial impact on later reports, albeit references to the role of women appear more frequently.
Throughout the reports, a clear link exists between universal solutions and international knowledge. This becomes evident when looking at instances where coded segments overlap—that is, when two codes appear in the same location (typically the same paragraph), as presented in Table 6.
Looking at the co-occurrence of solutions and knowledge—that is, when they appear within the same coded segment—54% of such instances pair universal solutions with international knowledge. This suggests that international ownership represents a significant dimension of UNEP’s environmental peacebuilding framework. This assessment is strengthened by the fact that while 28% of contextual and/or domestic solutions overlap with international knowledge, only 4% of such contextual solutions utilize domestic knowledge. This trend is consistent throughout the documents, with international knowledge considered critical to 82% of all proposed solutions.
These results suggest that although the environmental peacebuilding framework considers context to be relevant, international expertise is considered necessary irrespective of the solution. For example, while assessments of natural resource bases emphasize the specific context of each case, the solutions on offer remain highly technical, and thus demand international expert involvement (see ‘The Role of Natural Resources in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration’, 2013b, p. 11).
This finding is consistent with previous research on environmental peacebuilding, as well as broader intervention practice, which historically has tended to favor technical, expert-driven solutions (Aggestam and Sundell-Eklund 2013; Krampe 2016; Ide 2020).
Control of implementation processes
Proposals for concrete action were coded according to the level of control (high/low) attributed to an actor group. This is an important indicator, as it suggests who is actually in charge of policy processes. The results presented in Table 7 suggest that relatively little control is assigned to non-state actors, either domestic or international. By contrast, control is overwhelmingly assigned to international state actors (65%), which to some degree might be expect given that UNEP and other UN actors can be assumed to be a key audience for the reports. Yet, this category has the lowest number of coded segments (184 across all reports), which indicates that the reports devote relatively little space to concrete proposals. One explanation for this may be that—as suggested by research on the language used by the World Bank (Moretti and Pestre 2015; Felli 2016)—international organizations tend to use the passive form to avoid questions of ownership. Moreover, this perhaps correlates with the emphasis on universal solutions.
As with the other categories of analysis, the control of implementation processes frame reveals notable variations between the reports. First, while the 2013a report—as is the case for all four reports—assigns the greatest amount of control to international state actors (relative to the other three actor groups), domestic non-state actors here receive the highest percentage seen across the reports (21% of coded segments). This is due to the 2013a report’s emphasis on the inclusion of women as actors in peacebuilding processes. For example:
including women in the design and implementation of new water infrastructure can yield improved results in effectiveness and use. Research shows that in cases where women and men are equally consulted in terms of location and placement of water and sanitation infrastructure, the installations are more frequented, better maintained and technically appropriate. (‘Women and Natural Resources: Unlocking the Peacebuilding Potential’, 2013a, p. 25).
Second, contrary to what might be expected based on findings from the previous categories, domestic actors are perceived to play a more important and slightly more comprehensive role. In particular, the increased relevance of domestic non-state actors is a noteworthy observation.
However, a closer examination of this category’s co-occurrences reveals a more complex picture. Looking at the absolute number of coded segments, it can be seen that of the 29 segments that assign high control to domestic state actors, 19 also suggest control by international state actors. Thus, while the reports indicate that domestic actors should be involved in the peacebuilding process, the co-occurrences suggest that international guidance for domestic state actors is often expected. An example of this can be seen in the 2009 report (for further examples consult the Electronic Supplementary Material (ESM)):
The international community should be prepared to help national authorities manage the extraction process and revenues in ways that do not increase the risk of further conflict or are unsustainable in the longer term. This must go hand in hand with ensuring accountability, transparency and environmental sustainability in their management.
(‘Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment’, 2009, p. 29).
By comparison, for domestic non-state actors, just seven of 27 segments assign shared control. Interestingly, despite domestic control being identified as the main relationship of interest in peacebuilding, only four segments across all the reports assign control solely to domestic state and non-state actors together.