Summary of article on the Emergence of Environment as a Security Imperative

This is a summary of a larger article I wrote for Oxford University Press. The full article can be viewed here. 
The emergence of the environment as a security imperative is something that could have been avoided. Early indications showed that if governments did not pay attention to critical environmental issues, these would move up the security agenda. As far back as the Club of Rome 1972 report, Limits to Growth, variables highlighted for policy makers included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion, all of which impact how we live on this planet.
The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14, “Redefining Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations.” He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature.”
Of the major documents to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is probably the first time governments have tried to frame environmental security. Principle 2 says: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national.”
In 1994, the UN Development Program defined Human Security into distinct categories, including:
• Economic security (assured and adequate basic incomes).
• Food security (physical and affordable access to food).
• Health security.
• Environmental security (access to safe water, clean air and non-degraded land).
By the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002, water had begun to be identified as a security issue, first at the Rio+5 conference, and as a food security issue at the 1996 FAO Summit. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a High-Level Panel on “Threats, Challenges, and Change,” to help the UN prevent and remove threats to peace. It started to lay down new concepts on collective security, identifying six clusters for member states to consider. These included economic and social threats, such as poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation.
By 2007, health was being recognized as a part of the environmental security discourse, with World Health Day celebrating “International Health Security (IHS).” In particular, it looked at emerging diseases, economic stability, international crises, humanitarian emergencies, and chemical, radioactive, and biological terror threats. Environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate security as a key challenge for the 21st century. This was followed up in 2009 by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change—linking health and climate change.
In the run-up to Rio+20 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the issue of the climate-food-water-energy nexus, or rather, inter-linkages, between these issues was highlighted. The dialogue on environmental security has moved from a fringe discussion to being central to our political discourse—this is because of the lack of implementation of previous international agreements.
Growing scarcities of renewable resources can contribute to social instability and civil strife.
(Homer-Dixon, Boutwell, & Rathjens, 1993)
The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14 “Redefining National Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations” (Brown, 1977). He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature” (Brown, 1977).
Brown articulated this only five years after the first UN Conference on Human Environment (1972) which had one of the key inputs: The Club of Rome’s report on Limits to Growth. Limits to Growth identified five variables—world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion—that would impact how we live on this planet. The five variables were reviewed under three scenarios, two of which saw “overshoot and collapse” of the global system by the mid- to latter part of the 21st century. Only the third scenario would result in a “stabilized world” (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & Behrens, 1972).
The issue of the world’s increasing population had become a critical issue in the late 1960s, as predictions saw the growth of a potential food crisis. Rates of population growth were the highest in the period 1965 to 1970, at 2.06% (United Nations, 2016). The green revolution in agriculture, with the adoption of new technologies that saw new high-yield varieties of cereals in association with chemical fertilizer and better water supply, went a long away to address those concerns.
Reviews of the scenarios by Graham Turner (2008), at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), found that three of the critical variables, industrial production, food production, and pollution, are all in line with one of the book’s three scenarios so far—that of “business as usual.”
In 2014, Turner concluded that “preparing for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse” (Turner, 2014).
In 2011, population and industrialization were identified as two of the three drivers of the nexus (food-water-energy-climate), the other being urbanization.
The full article can be found here on Oxford University Press page.
Books by Felix Dodds on Environmental Security



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