Florence Foster

Jessica Johansson

Maya Street

Economic transformation needs a conflict-sensitive approach

Stockholm+50. Why human rights and conflict-sensitivity are central to sustainable and just responses to planetary crises
30 May 2022
Climate_Justice | Ranurte-q0rliBGNR94 | Unsplash

A system-wide transformation demands thinking and acting beyond sectoral boundaries to address the main drivers of unsustainable practices. At the same time it requires a context-specific unterstanding of current and potential issues, social tensions, gender dynamics and social, political and economic grievances - in short a conflict sensitive approach.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our global system and the rife inequality across our world. It has also demonstrated clearly that business-as-usual is not fit to address current global challenges. In the run up to Stockholm +50, “achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic” is central to examining and rebuilding the relationship between human and environmental wellbeing. This goal forms the basis of Leadership Dialogue 2 (LD2) which brings together a range of stakeholders including governments, civil society, international organizations, businesses and private sector actors, indigenous people, women, youth groups and local communities to exchange ideas and opportunities for bold action towards a healthy, sustainable, just, inclusive and peaceful future.

This blog is a contribution to that conversation, responding to a key area of action identified in LD2 that calls for an urgent system-wide transformation of high impact sectors to shift to sustainable consumption and production through circular economy, including increased accountability of financial institutions and other key stakeholders, and investment that is in line with climate and biodiversity priorities and addresses poverty and inequality. The blog hopes to outline suggestions for yet bolder action. Climate change, environmental and ecosystem degradation, poverty, inequality, and destructive conflict are inextricably linked and need to be addressed in synergy.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda calls for a multisectoral approach to sustainable development and our COVID-19 recovery is no different. At the heart of a sustainable and inclusive green recovery is a need to fairly and urgently address the root causes of environmental destruction and the damaging patterns of consumption, oppression, and inequality that COVID has exposed. How we address these challenges however, can also be an avenue to cooperate and build peace. This blog presents recommendations and opportunities based on a holistic approach that combines conflict-sensitivity and rights-based approachesand an integration of a degrowth economic model, which together are key to addressing our global challenges.

What are the current steps for action suggested in Leadership Dialogue Two?

Current models of production and consumption have caused irrefutable levels of human and planetary suffering. A system-wide transformation that “demands thinking and acting beyond sectoral boundaries to address the main drivers of unsustainable practices” has since been a key area for action identified through LD2. This transformation is envisioned towards a circular economic model and through greater resource allocation towards poverty alleviation.Central to this system-wide transformation is identification by the leadership dialogues of ‘high impact sectors’ including food, energy and manufacturing. States, governments, businesses and private actors are thus key catalysts in these high-impact sectors. LD2 outlines a range of recommendations for high impact sectors such as targeting their material, pollutive, carbon footprint, as well as re-imagining their relationship to GDP. Priorities also include greater financial accountability, in line with climate and biodiversity priorities; including social and policy innovations to enhance value and increase human well-being for all. Are these bold and radical changes enough

What does an effective implementation of a system-wide transformation look like? And how are human rights, peace and conflict-sensitivity central to this endeavour?A system-wide transformation demands an inclusive approach.

A rights-based approach is one that is grounded in international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting them. It seeks to redress inequalities which lie at the heart of people’s grievances and ensures effective public participation in decision making, thus contributing to better informed and more responsive environmental policies. Such an approach is not merely an obligation but part of a process to sustainable engagement and peace. Similarly, an effective and sustainable implementation of a system-wide transformation also necessitates a conflict-sensitive approach. This requires a context-specific understanding of current and potential issues, societal tensions, gender dynamics and social, political and economic grievances. In practice, a conflict-sensitive approach requires actors to avoid negative impacts to social relations and to avoid fuelling division or conflict. In cases where unintended negative effects and/or harms have occurred, compensation and effective remedy must be implemented.A sustainable, just and inclusive system-wide transition should go beyond a circular economic model. The integration of a de-growth model is vital to reduce the rate of endless growth and resource use in global production and consumption that is beyond planetary capacity. While a circular economy is needed in essential services such as medical production, a system-wide circular economy should not be the end itself, but instead our economic systems must reduce harmful and unsustainable rates of growth to truly achieve a sustainable, just and healthy future for all.

The following recommendations provide sound opportunities for peaceful and rights-based implementation of a system-wide transformation towards sustainable economic models and poverty alleviation.

Business actors and their financial supporters should:
  • Ensure meaningful engagement and inclusive consultation of affected communities, including human rights and environmental defenders, small-holders, women, indigenous people and youth,

  • Conduct ongoing conflict mapping and human rights and environmental impact due diligence assessments (HRDD) of business activities throughout supply chains and investments and ensure that their activities are in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,

  • Enhance transparency by making information on business activities publicly accessible and easily understandable,

  • Develop exit strategies to prevent and mitigate conflict as an unintended result of business activities and to secure continuity of conflict mapping and long-term HRDD measures throughout ownership changes and compensation for harm occurred,

  • Ensure grievance mechanisms are implemented and are accessible to affected communities,

  • Take steps to ensure that their investment decisions are consistent with a pathway toward a low-carbon economy and are committed to reducing endless growth through adoption of a degrowth business model,

State actors should:
  • Implement distributional policies to realize commitments towards poverty reduction. A substantial evidence base confirms that distribution is central to fighting poverty and violent conflict. Distribution objectives, particularly for assets, should therefore be an integral part of the poverty reduction agenda.

  • Adopt mandatory conflict sensitive HRDD, including accountability measures, to ensure that business actors conduct conflict sensitivity and HRDD throughout their activities, value chains, and investments.

  • Scale up loan forgiveness for developing countries,- Redistribution of not only wealth but also of opportunities requires rethinking welfare systems, taxes (especially on wealth), and preventing tax avoidance and evasion. This is particularly important for a just transition towards a low carbon, circular economy, and inclusive de-growth models.

  • Redirect the two trillion US dollars in global yearly military spending to energy transitions, civil conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and poverty alleviation.

  • Rapidly reduce dependency and ultimately use of fossil fuels, which continues to define violent and vulnerable international relations, while threatening massive species extinctions, including our own through global temperature rises.

  • In contexts affected by violence, invest in strengthened domestic resource mobilization, accountable and transparent tax systems and equitable progressive, gender-responsive budget allocation to support peacebuilding initiatives and strengthen institutions. Investment in small-scale production based on local solutions is also key to ensure an inclusive and conflict-sensitive approach.

Looking ahead

COVID-19 has left us the political legacy that pre-existing fractures and inequalities can no longer be brushed aside. There is an immediate need to reimagine our economic systems so that they drive human and environmental wellbeing and are in harmony with environmental realities, striving for social justice, equity and sustainable peace. We have the opportunity to recover and rebuild from the pandemic with a bold and just approach. A sustainable and inclusive transformation should follow a human rights based and conflict sensitive approach to ensure a fair, just and equitable transformation of our current global system, for a peaceful and healthy future for all.

This article was published first as a contribution to a short series on opportunities for peace at Stockholm+50. To learn more about Stockholm+50, please visit Join us in Stockholm on 31 May for discussion on Making peace with nature: Environmental peacebuilding for sustainable development.

The Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt) is an association of governmental organisations, church development agencies, civil society networks, and political foundations.


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