Science Diplomacy and Environmental Peacebuilding: Overcoming Political Boundaries by Leveraging Science and Protecting the Environment in Cyprus

*Carla Isobel Elliff, Sunitha Anup and Dhanasree Jayaram
Background to the webinar series 

Environmental peacebuilding has emerged as a new frontier in interdisciplinary studies, which seeks to go beyond the traditional role of natural resources or environmental change in general in triggering and exacerbating conflicts, but to look at the positive peacebuilding potential of environmental and natural resources in not only post-conflict societies but also fragile societies with weak governance and nation states that are at perpetual conflict with each other (that may not necessarily be physical in nature) over environmental resources or otherwise. Science diplomacy also aims at building bridges between societies where formal relationships are strained, strengthening partnerships between scientific and diplomatic communities and so on. The two conceptual frameworks, at the outset, seem to have common goals; and therefore, if they are aligned with each other, can they provide better solutions to the problems of the 21stcentury?

In general, the role of science in environmental diplomacy, whether it is in terms of fostering research collaborations between countries or communities, or in terms of its role in environmental treaty-making, has been under deliberation for a long time. However, how can science contribute to peacebuilding between nations and communities that are at war with each other or are hostile against each other through environmental cooperation? This is a question that needs to be addressed more seriously and urgently at a time when environmental degradation and climate-fragility risks are posing challenges to peace and stability in many parts of the world. At the same time, it is also critical to explore ways in which science could engender or advance diplomatic initiatives in the environmental arena, by acting as a preventive diplomacy tool, and contributing to international peace. Science, being often labelled a double-edged sword, needs to be attuned to a conflict-sensitive approach for better results in peacebuilding. Similarly, environmental peacebuilding efforts could also have backdraft effects, if the mitigation and adaptation initiatives are not scientifically, socioeconomically and politically sound.

In this context, this webinar series on science diplomacy and environmental peacebuilding seeks to explore the role of science diplomacy in environmental peacebuilding; examine the interlinkages between science diplomacy and environmental peacebuilding through empirical cases from various regions; and identify the institutions and stakeholders at international, regional and local levels that could operationalise or implement science diplomacy-environmental peacebuilding initiatives. 

The case of Cyprus 
The first webinar focussed on Cyprus, which is not only environmentally vulnerable, but also politically divided. While Cyprus is known worldwide as a beautiful island in the Mediterranean with a rich historical background, it is divided politically into North and South Cyprus. At the same time, it may come as a surprise to many as to how much work has been going on in this island country in the field of science diplomacy and environmental peacebuilding. Dr. Simge Davulcu (Assistant Professor in Organic Chemistry, Girne American University, Girne/Kyrenia, Cyprus) is the founder of the Science for Peace Initiative Cyprus, and together with Dr. Myrtani Pieri (Assistant Professor, School of Sciences and Engineering, Department of Life and Health Sciences, University of Nicosia, Cyprus), they have been undertaking a number of initiatives to overcome political boundaries in their country by leveraging science.
The basic idea of science diplomacy is that science has no boundaries and it can be a tool to initiate dialogue in search of the middle ground, as explained by Dr. Davulcu. Science can be an international language for everyone. The Science for Peace Initiative has opened up a platform for dialogue and communication between scientists and communities in North and South Cyprus, thus also facilitating peace. Dr. Pieri asserted that young scientists should be able to communicate their work not only within their research community, but also to a broader audience. Both Dr. Pieri and Dr. Davulcu emphasised the need for improving the communication skills of local scientists by bringing them together with journalists, school teachers and other stakeholders, thus enhancing science outreach among people of all walks of life.
Among the main events and projects organised under the initiative, the Cafe Scientifique (an informal environment for conversations related to science); Fame Lab (science communication competitions that promote communication of science in a simple and entertaining manner) and the Mediterranean Science Festival (started in 2015 in Limassol, this four-day event is a celebration of science and it includes talks, exhibitions and workshops) are noteworthy. The Mediterranean Science Festival has had participants from the neighbouring countries and countries from across the world, such as Italy, Malta, Israel, the United Kingdom (UK), Greece, Iran and Iraq among others. At the 2017 festival, Dr. Davulcu and Dr. Pieri organised a bi-communal organic chemistry workshop, in which students (up to the age of 12) used their simple or simplified scientific skills to produce the smell of Cyprus (perfumes) using essential oils, with the underlying message of unity. This initiative helped highlight the idea of using science as a tool to build bridges between communities and bring peace in conflict areas, even among the other countries of the region that participated in the festival.
The speakers touched upon the existing research collaborations between the North and South of Cyprus in the environmental arena. After all, as observed by Dr. Pieri, “We depend on the same ecosystems and natural recourses. We have the same issues that affect all parts of Cyprus, such as climate change, water scarcity, heat and dust and threats to biodiversity.” They include a project on caves, biodiversity in the buffer zone, and “Birds Have No Boundaries”. From a top-down perspective, both Dr. Davulcu and Dr. Pieri expressed that there is political will in both parts of Cyprus to continue this kind of work. In fact, environmental and scientific issues feature very prominently in the bicommunal technical committees that are facilitating the reunification talks between the two parts of Cyprus. 
One potential barrier that both researchers pointed out was language, but only to a certain extent. While the official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish, there are also minority languages (Armenian and Cypriot Arabic), and public schools do not currently offer courses that teach all languages to all the people on the island. English is a language that is largely spoken across the island and hence, it was chosen as the main form of communication for the scientific initiatives led by Dr. Davulcu and Dr. Pieri, thus overcoming this barrier to a large extent. However, sharing of knowledge and communication would be easier if the other languages, mainly Green and Turkish, are encouraged in all forums. 
On climate change, the speakers mentioned the major vulnerabilities of the island, such as temperature rise, water stress, forest fires and so on. One of the initiatives that is fostering collaboration between Turkish and Greek Cypriots is the Cyprus Institute, which has now received a grant of around 30 million Euro (also supported by the European Union) to undertake research on climate change in Cyprus. At the same time, there are disputes emerging with regard to hydrocarbon discoveries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the country, for which the speakers clearly insisted that there needs to be a top-down approach, wherein only political decisions can make a difference. The subject is still a matter of discussion and could generate conflicts among Cypriot communities, as remarked by Dr. Pieri. She also indicated a paradoxical situation with this discussion: while the world is looking for solutions to climate change, should we really be discussing the use of more fossil fuels? In an island with sunlight for 11 months a year, we should be thinking of options for renewable energy, she reflected.
Regarding international collaborations and support, Dr. Davulcu and Dr. Pieri observed that besides funding, scientists need support to talk about their work to the general public; and this should be promoted and facilitated. In addition, they reflected on the need for bridging the gap between academia and industry, given that there are so many common goals between these two sectors. There is an increasing trend of collaboration between academia and industry in Cyprus; and Dr. Pieri expressed hope that this would be another channel through which consortiums consisting of academia and industries from both sides, could work together on specific issues concerning the island. In conclusion, Dr. Davulcu spoke about the importance of responsible research and innovation, known as RRI, which is built upon pillars such as public engagement, open access and data, ethics, and gender equality, but is tailored to the needs of each country and/or region. Science diplomacy is a good pathway for learning about the best practices from each other and achieving the best results based on some of the principles of RRI. 
The full recording of this webinar can be accessed at <>. 

If you are interested in science diplomacy and environmental peacebuilding, the next webinar of this series will be held on May 3, 2019 15:30-16:30 CEST, 9:30-10:30 EDT, with Dr. Klaus Dodds and Dr. Cassandra Brooks on science diplomacy contextualized in the polar regions. More information on the second webinar can be found here: 
The webinar series has been made possible with support from the following networks and institutions:

  •      Centre for Climate Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education
  •      Environmental Peacebuilding Association
  •      Earth System Governance Project
  •      Early Career Researchers Network of Networks and Future Earth
  •      Young Ecosystem Services Specialists
  •      Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers
  •      International Consortium of Research Staff Associations
  •      Responsible Research and Innovation Networking Globally
*  This report has been prepared by Carla Isobel Elliff of Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, representing the Young Ecosystem Services Specialists (YESS) network; and Sunitha Anup of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi, representing the Network of Early-Career Sustainable Scientists & Engineers (NESSE). 


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