New tools for environmental conflict resolution

A course on environmental collaboration and conflict resolution brought together 28 participants from 17 different countries at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu Campus, from 20 to 24 August 2018. Funded by the Nordic Forestry, Veterinary and Agricultural University Network (NOVA), the course provided the participants with theory and practical skills in environmental collaboration and conflict resolution.

The course in environmental collaboration and environmental conflict resolution involved a day trip to explore nature in Kivilahti, Ilomantsi. During the day trip, environmental experts, including Coordinator of the North Karelia Biosphere Reserve Timo J. Hokkanen from the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, shared their experiences with the students. Dr Hokkanen, briefs the course participants on everyman’s rights in Kivilahti, Ilomantsi. (Photo: Risto Löf)

The course, entitled Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution: The Crossroads of Forestry, Ecosystem Services and Wildlife, was organised by the School of Forest Sciences of the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies as well as the ALL-YOUTH and CORE research projects.

“In Mozambique, conflicts are largely related to land tenure and the use of natural resources. We need new, innovative tools and means for environmental collaboration and conflict resolution,” says Estêvão Chambule, a Doctoral Student at Eduardo Mondlane University.

Doctoral Student Estêvão Chambule wants to make research-based knowledge available to support environmental decision-making in his home country, Mozambique. He is looking forward to applying theories in environmental collaboration to practice. (Photo: Risto Löf)

According to Chambule, new methods of environmental collaboration are needed in Mozambique to support decision-making both at the national and regional levels. Factors underlying environmental conflicts often include political issues as well as poverty and low level of education.

Regional conflicts, universal mediation methods

“Peer learning is a good way to share knowledge and experiences within an international group of students,” Professor Mara Hernández from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, Mexico). (Photo: Varpu Heiskanen)

The students on the NOVA course come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines from all over the world. This poses some challenges on the teachers, too.

One of the international teachers of the course, Professor Mara Hernández from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, Mexico), finds that peer leaning is an important way of exchanging knowledge and practical experiences of environmental conflict mediation within the diverse group of students. Moreover, it is essential to learn to integrate theory and methodological tools into real conflict situations.

According to Professor Hernández, major environmental conflicts all over the world are often related to the use of regional and local natural resources, such as oil resources in Nigeria, mining in Latin America or access to clean water worldwide.  Although challenges may be regional and conflicts local, similar tools to analyse the context and dynamics of conflict may apply, as well as certain attitudes and behaviours that favour understanding and integrating the diversity of needs and perspectives at play.

“Participatory methods are very effective in conflict situations. The mere hearing of each party’s story, needs and perspectives, without judging, is highly important and constitutes a core skill in most conflict analysis and resolution methods,” Professor Hernández points out.

At CIDE, Professor Hernández coordinates a research programme focusing on negotiations, mediation and dialogue. Holding a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA), she is also a founding member of the Consensus Building Institute’s global network.

Conflict anticipation, mitigation and resolution are basic skills in environmental collaboration

“Conflict identification, mitigation and resolution are basic skills in environmental management and protection. Skills in environmental collaboration are needed,” says North Karelia Biosphere Coordinator Timo J. Hokkanen from the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

The UEF teachers from the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies, Professor Irmeli Mustalahti and Senior Researcher Antti Erkkilä, emphasise that environmental experts are increasingly required to anticipate, identify and mediate conflicts. These skills should be widely taught to various professionals.

“Skills in environmental collaboration and environmental conflict resolution should be regarded as civic education, and their teaching should be emphasised in the same way as first aid skills,” Professor Mustalahti says.

“Skills in environmental collaboration and environmental conflict resolution should be widely taught to various professionals in the environmental sector,” says Professor Irmeli Mustalahti from the University of Eastern Finland. (Photo: Antti Erkkilä)

During the course, the students presented their PhD studies on the environment and social conflicts.

The conflict situations discussed in the course were related to conflicting interests of forest industry, use of bioenergy, tourism, fishing, picking wild berries and mushrooms, and landscape protection.

The students also experienced Finnish nature on a day trip to Ilomantsi.

“Negotiations are a way to bring different parties’ views closer to one another, resulting in outcomes that are approved by all and, consequently, more sustainable,” Senior Researcher Erkkilä says.

 “The course included real-life case studies to illustrate the theory and how to apply newly learned skills in practice,” he continues.

The course organisers included the ALL-YOUTH and CORE research projects funded by the Finnish Strategic Research Council (SRC). ALL-YOUTH explores the capabilities of young people and the obstacles that hamper their engagement with society, as well as the visions of youth regarding a sustainable future, growth and well-being.  CORE studies and develops collaborative action in environmental planning and decision-making, building on notions of interdependence and collaborative governance as opportunities for solving wicked societal problems.


Held in August 2018, the 5-day course was part of the NOVA PhD course series on Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution. Earlier courses have been held at the University of Eastern Finland in 2016, and at the University of Copenhagen in 2017. The course in 2019 will be organised by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and held at the University of Agder in Norway.

Text: Risto Löf and Antti Erkkilä

Photos: Antti Erkkilä, Varpu Heiskanen, Risto Löf