Jul 28 2006
Environment and Security: A Forward Agenda
By Nick Mabey
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In his previous role at the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, E3G Chief Executive Nick Mabey led work analysing Countries at Risk of Instability. The challenges faced by these countries in many ways give us an indication of the likely security challenges of a resource constrained world.
Nick has recently made a number of speeches on the theme of environment and security, and has drawn together some of the key issues facing policy makers. A pdf version of Nick’s new briefing paper is attached for download, the text also follows below.
The growing environment and security challenge
Conflict over natural resources, whether driven by need or greed, has always been a part of human society. There is also strong evidence that social tensions driven by past climatic change destroyed many advanced societies; such as the long-wave droughts which drove the collapse of early civilisations in Mesopotamia and Peru.
The coming decades will see rising resource scarcity, greater environmental degradation and increasingly disruptive climatic change. In fact, in an increasingly uncertain world these trends are disturbingly predictable. The question is whether increasing environmental and resource pressures will reduce security and stability, or will our political, governance and security systems be able to manage them peacefully?
The lack of focus on environmental security issues in national security systems found by many researchers could suggest that security professionals in the major developed powers hold the more optimistic view. More disturbingly it could indicate that these new realities have yet to be integrated into security strategies and policy frameworks.
However, these issues are fast rising up the global political agenda. Geopolitical competition for fossil and mineral resources has become the main source of 19th century-style “great power” tensions in today’s interdependent world. By empowering autocratic rulers in Africa and Central Asia against their people, this competition is also setting the stage for violent internal crisis and the consequent disruption of energy supplies.
Security issues where resource and environmental factors play key roles are the stuff of day-to-day foreign policy: from land conflicts between pastorists and agriculturalists in Darfur; to the role of oil in fuelling and sustaining of separatist conflict in the Niger Delta and Aceh. Many countries already face significant challenges in coping with existing climate variability; for example, the World Bank estimates that floods and drought in Kenya in the late 1990s resulted in direct economic costs of $4.8 billion, or 22% of GDP per annum.
Though each particular crisis or conflict has its own unique dynamic based on local politics, economics and history; strong patterns are clear. The corrupting influence of point source revenues – whether from natural resources, drugs, pipelines or weapons - on elites is the most powerful source of underdevelopment and failing economies. The World Bank estimates that over the last 40 years developing countries without major natural resources have grown 2-3 times faster than those with high resource endowment. Politicised revenue allocation from natural resources based around ethnic, religious or regional lines has been a major driver of internal conflict. Natural resource revenues are feeding corruption and organised crime, which destabilise governments and at the extreme finance conflict and provide a logistical infrastructure for international terrorism.
Politicised allocation of water and land is constantly driving low level conflict, which can spark into major violence when linked to ethnic, national and other divisions. Migration away from environmentally degraded regions causes confrontation across borders and inside countries, from Africa to Latin America.