Jul 28 2006
Environment and Security: A Forward Agenda
By Nick Mabey
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Many countries are currently undertaking reforms to improve their conflict prevention and crisis response architectures. However, there is a need for much more radical and concerted change if security objectives are to be met.
Work carried out by UK Prime Ministers Strategy Unit (“Investing in Prevention”, 2005, available at www.strategy.gov.uk) showed that despite recent improvements, government systems have significant weaknesses in developing strategic approaches to reducing structural risks of instability and conflict in the medium to long term. These weaknesses are deeply rooted in all parts of government systems, and not confined to commonly discussed issues of deficient early warning and insufficient political will to act.
There is a critical opportunity to accelerate the process of systemic reform in the next few years. The political imperative for better systems to tackle crises is growing, not least in the European Union and its neighbourhood. The experience of DRC, Afghanistan and Iraq has further strengthened the cost-benefit case for investing in prevention. The increased emphasis on poverty reduction has liberated larger financial resources to be invested in fragile states, particularly in Africa; most of which are economically dependent on natural resources. Rising awareness of the future impacts of climate change is increasing attention on the environmental drivers of instability.
Experts on the environmental and resource aspects of security can help drive these changes in governments, along with actors from the development, health and conflict prevention communities. A joined-up approach outside governments will help drive joined-up action from governments.
This is probably best done through a focus on critical “problem clusters”, rather than in a “grand theory” of system redesign, and there are many candidate areas. Progress is already being made to strengthen international processes to prevent the use of natural resources to fund conflict, but more could be done to extend and deepen this approach. More effort could be given to managing the negative cycle of natural resource mismanagement, corruption, underdevelopment and instability, especially in energy exporting countries in Africa and Central Asia. A much more detailed picture of the impact of climate change on stability, and the links between climate security and energy security, is needed to drive medium to long-term security and energy policy.
Though progress may be slow it is happening, and it is critical that the opportunities of the coming years are taken. The growing impacts of climate change will multiply all these tensions, and the experience of the last decade is that climatic changes will happen faster than we currently expect. If effective systems for preventive action are not built the international community will face multiple re-enforcing crises, and be left trying to patch up societies with an expensive combination of humanitarian and military intervention, but little chance of sustainable success.