Using scenarios to improve understanding of environment and security issues


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

The need to address environment and security

For many people, the term 'national security' suggests images of military and police efforts to preserve peace and stability. Environmental issues are seldom seen to play a major role in security but in fact the issues are inextricably linked.

Resource overexploitation and changes in climate affect quality of life, potentially undermining social and political stability and the sustainability of local ecosystem services. Combined with demographic pressures, decreasing socio-ecological resilience can add a new dimension to the environment and security debate, as conflicts over increasingly scarce resources intensify and add to migration pressures (EEA, 2010a).

'Few threats to peace and survival of the human community are greater than those posed by the prospects of cumulative and irreversible degradation of the biosphere on which human life depends. True security cannot be achieved by mounting build up of weapons (defence in a narrow sense), but only by providing basic conditions for solving non‑military problems which threaten them.'

Brundtland Commission Report, 1987.

Climate change presents a complex mixture of threats to security

Human progress during past centuries has been founded on developing infrastructure, systems and institutions matched to historic environmental conditions. When climate change turns these environmental constants into variables, the result can be instability at multiple levels: legal, infrastructural, economic and social.

In some places, water is becoming scarcer, with important impacts on agriculture, energy and economic systems. Elsewhere, receding ice is making previously inaccessible land, hydrocarbons and minerals available. Shifting access to resources is sure to alter relations between states, and competition for supplies could result in conflict — particularly in regions that lack effective interstate mechanisms for resolving disputes.

'Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers of people, of societies, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilise countries, even entire regions.'

US Secretary of State Colin Powell July 2002

Meanwhile, physical infrastructure adapted to yesterday's environment is becoming obsolete as floods and other natural disasters alter in frequency and location. Territorial boundaries are altering as sea levels rise — and some islands, even whole nations, risk disappearing altogether. Existing legal norms and institutions tailored to past conditions are ill equipped to deal with these situations or the migration that will inevitably follow (EEA, 2012; EEA, 2013).

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