Climate security as a catalyst for peace
Environmental degradation, poor environmental management and the burden of climate change will have a profound affect on global security. However, while existing situations of environmental degradation could become even less manageable, contributing to conditions that make conflict more likely, especially in already fragile and failing regions, they also present an opportunity for peace and cooperation.
Climate change is expected to reduce the availability and quality of already stressed water resources and intensify the considerable desertification observed in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa, parts of southern Asia and Australia. It follows that those countries and regions most affected are those which are already under considerable environmental and political strain. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading global climate science assessment body, has stated that sea-level rise is expected to threaten the existence of many small island states, coastal areas and critical infrastructure, and threaten the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people.
The 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate change states that climate induced extreme weather events are likely to affect trade and global financial markets through disruptions to communications, transport and more volatile costs of insurance and capital. Stern also notes that the costs of extreme weather events will increase rapidly in areas with higher temperatures. Damages related to increased hurricane wind speed will result in higher annual damages. By the middle of the century, heat waves similar to the one that afflicted Europe in 2003 (where 35,000 people died and agricultural losses reached $15 billion) could be commonplace. Declining crop yields, especially in Africa, are likely to undermine livelihoods, preventing millions from obtaining sufficient food; an increase in crops in some areas could potentially result in conflicts based on relative depravity.
A cause of conflict
These changes have the potential to contribute significantly to regional instability and conflicts. The 2008 U.S. “National Intelligence Assessment on National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030” recognized the national security implications of climate change. The European Union has described climate change as a threat multiplier and the U.K. has recognized the impacts of climate change as serious threat to global security. In 2007, the U.K. added a discussion on climate change to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council and has made climate change a major plank of its foreign, development and defence policies.
There is evidence to suggest that environmental degradation amplified by climate change is already having a negative effect on stability in various places across the globe.
Environmental changes are a contributing factor to the conflicts in Sudan. Altered rainfall patterns due to climatic changes have been one of the factors placing nomadic herders and settled farmers into conflict with each other. The unsustainable use of land and increasing desertification are also key contributors and are directly linked to reduced rainfall.
There are also serious water disputes between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan due to growing water scarcity brought on by unsustainable and inefficient use of shared water resources. In 2000, agricultural production fell 30 percent due to reduced water resources, leading each country to blame the other. Climate change is likely to exacerbate existing problems of water shortages, inefficient management and reduced agricultural yields.
In 2005 hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, killing hundreds and displacing over one million people – likely one, if not the only, instance of a permanently displaced population in a developed country due to environmental factors. This was also estimated to be a major factor in the dissolution of the Republican Party’s hold on congress in 2006 and the Presidency in 2008.
Crisis or opportunity?
On the surface, it seems as though the effects of climate change resulting in ongoing environmental degradation pose a new and significant threat to global security. However, what is often overlooked in the assessment of environment/security linkages are the opportunities for peace and cooperation which emerge just as strong, if not stronger, than the potential risk of conflict.
It is important to note that in and of themselves, environmental degradation and climate change are unlikely to be a primary cause of conflicts. Aaron Wolfe of Oregon State University has observed that one of the only documented cases of war fought directly over an environmental resource was between the Sumerian city states of Umma and Lagash on the Tigris River approximately 4,500 years ago, which ultimately resulted in a cooperative arrangement and closer ties between the two city states.
Further, researchers at Oregon State have compiled a dataset of every reported interaction (conflictive or cooperative) between two or more nations that was driven by water, or lack of it, in the last half-century. The findings are shocking: 1,228 cooperative events dwarf the 507 conflict-related events. In the last 50 years, only 37 disputes involved violence, and 30 of those occurred between Israel and one of its neighbours. Outside the Middle East, researchers found only five violent events, while 157 treaties were negotiated and signed.
Based on this research, it is far more likely that adversaries would be willing to cooperate on issues surrounding a shared and essential environmental resource from which they collectively derive benefit, than on larger political issues which often drive conflicts.
What this suggests is that while there are real and significant threats associated with environmental degradation and climate change, these threats also offer an opportunity for peaceful dialogue between adversaries. Sustainable management of resources is, by definition, conflict management or, put another way, a form of “environmental functionalism.”
Environmental functionalism focuses on building peaceful relations between adversaries through cooperative management of a common desired natural resource; interdependence rather than conflict via sustainable resource governance. Climate change has added a new dimension to environmental functionalism.
Two good examples are the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan and the1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.
In the case of the Indus, the division of India and Pakistan in 1947 also involved the division of the Indus basin on which both countries depend. The division left the head waters in India and Pakistan with control of the lower part of the Basin. Through the Indus Waters Treaty both countries agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the other over three of the six rivers in the Basin. This agreement was a significant step forward in resolving disputes over India and Pakistan’s western border. The operation of the treaty was not affected by two major wars (1965 and 1971), ongoing low-intensity conflicts, and nuclear weapons tests, and remains in force today. In spite of the ongoing political and military tension between India and Pakistan, conflict over this shared resource did not become a catalyst for violent interstate conflict.
Nearly all disputes between Israel and Jordan since 1948 have had water as an underlying stressor. However, water has also been a focal point for cooperation and peace between the two countries. After the 1967 War, Israel and Jordan remained technically in state of war. The lack of overt violent conflict between them allowed for on-going informal cooperation on various issues – including water. This informal cooperation contributed to limiting violent conflict between 1967 and the 1994 peace accords. A joint Israeli-Jordanian agriculture committee, which predated the 1994 agreement, even coordinated emergency responses to insect plagues and regulated the commerce of agricultural products. Israeli and Jordanian technicians worked collaboratively but informally to build an intricate network of interdependence. Peace initiatives in the 1980s increased functional links such as where to plant crops and sourced water for irrigation. The 1994 peace accord saw the creation of the Joint Water Committee (JWC), which coordinates the management of shared water resources. The cooperation over a shared resource, in this case the Jordan river, has been recognized by the parties involved as a decisive element in forging the formal peace agreement in 1994, officially ending decades of war.
The key point in both cases is that bitter enemies competing for a scarce and degraded resource did not become embroiled in a conflict over that resource but rather used it to foster interdependence and cooperation. As environmental degradation becomes more severe and global climate change makes these impacts more pronounced, the risk of conflicts over resources increases. But so do the opportunities for peace.
Frequently, traditional peace building interventions only include environment and resource considerations fairly late in the process, if at all. The methods must adapt to the changing nature of the threats and conflict drivers, including environmental degradation and climate change, and internalize these aspects into existing best practices. Stable and lasting peace depends on ensuring sustainable livelihoods, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and provision of, access to, and sustainable use of basic services including water and agricultural land, and the recovery and sound management of the resource base to ensure economic opportunities for all.
It is critical that environmental and climatic aspects of a conflict or potential conflict be part of any peace process or conflict prevention strategy. Accordingly, Canada and its international partners should:
· Where appropriate address environment/resources as part of the conflict prevention and peacebuilding process;
· Prioritize environment/resources governance for capacity building;
· Integrate environment/resource issues into post-conflict planning and development; and
· Use sustainable environment/resource management to help prevent conflict and/or rebuild economies after conflict by fostering the creation of regional resource governance institutions and bilateral or regional resource treaties that include all relevant stakeholders.
Environmental degradation and climate change have the potential to undermine security and to drive conflicts. However, unlike many other conflict drivers, environmental factors also offer significant opportunities to foster peace and cooperation between adversaries.
Going forward, the international community should where necessary, internalize the environment and climate change into peace building/conflict prevention strategies. Cooperative resource governance and management has been used effectively as a tool to prevent/end conflicts in the past. As we move towards an increasingly resource constrained and unstable world these options will be ever more important to maintain global peace and security.
Canada clearly has an opportunity to lead on this innovative new approach. While the rest of the world may simply see the effects of environmental degradation and climate change as one more creative way in which humanity can visit hardship and death upon itself, Canada is well placed to use this same information to turn a potential crisis into an opportunity for peace, cooperation and prosperity.
Patrick Quealey has conducted research on environment and climate security while at the University of Waterloo and the London School of Economics, and has shared his findings at the Research Group in International Security and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He is the co-creator of the Ottawa Sustainability Fund and serves as chair of the City of Ottawa’s Environmental Advisory Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).