As a discipline, environmental peacebuilding “integrates natural resource management in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery to build resilience in communities affected by conflict” (EnPAX 2020). Increasingly, peacebuilders have deployed environmental peacebuilding in intrastate and interstate contexts to advance peacebuilding objectives. Despite its growing appeal, environmental peacebuilding has been critiqued for lacking a strong theoretical foundation grounded in empirical evidence. Clear causal mechanisms linking environment and peacebuilding remain poorly specified, meaning many of the core assumptions in environmental peacebuilding circulate in peer-review and policy literature without critical reflection. In this article, we conduct a review of the empirical literature on environmental peacebuilding to examine linkages between NRM and intrastate peacebuilding. Our analysis builds on the notion of a “peace continuum” to identify four dimensions of peace (absence of violence, shared identity, capabilities, and substantial integration), and models how NRM initiatives contribute to or detract from those dimensions, as well as their cumulative impact on wider peacebuilding processes (i.e. positive, negative, or mixed). We systematically coded and analyzed 79 empirical articles on intrastate environmental peacebuilding written between 2002 and 2019 to identify the causal mechanisms and sub-mechanisms driving NRM-peace linkages. We reviewed research from 40 conflict-affected countries, and our sample included articles that found NRM initiatives to have an overall positive (N = 20), negative (N = 13), or mixed (N = 35) effect on peacebuilding (N = 11 coded as other). While we find the evidence for environment-peace linkages is mixed and context-dependent, our analysis suggests that NRM initiatives show consistent indirect and direct linkages to all dimensions of peace, but especially peace as capabilities and substantial integration. We argue, in particular, that building peace as capabilities – via initiatives that facilitate political inclusion, equity, and livelihoods – may be a necessary condition for fostering positive peace. However, we also find that detracting from peace as substantial integration – via initiatives that destabilize social cohesion, undermine state legitimacy, or produce distributive injustice – may be a sufficient condition for spoiling positive peace. Further, there is evidence to suggest that building peace as a capability can counteract peace as substantial integration. We highlight five major avenues for future research, the most important being to understand how distinct dimensions of peace interact to influence larger peace processes. Overall, our results suggest that environmental peacebuilding can be a critical tool in post-conflict peacebuilding, but that peacebuilders should be aware of the ways in which it can systematically undermine peacebuilding efforts.
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