World Leaders are failing to prepare for a new era of complex and often unpredictable risks to peace as profound environmental and security crises converge and intensity, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
In terms of security, the report, Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk, said that there was an increase in the incidence of conflict and the numbers of dead and displaced people a trend in existence long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Spending on arms and military forces is rising; the use of nuclear weapons seems to be less unthinkable than it was previously. In terms of the environment, manifestations of decline include more extreme weather, rising seas, constraints on water availability, decline in mammals and pollinating insects, plastic pollution, dying coral reefs and shrinking forest,” the report said.
SIPRI Director and Environment of Peace author Dan Smith said, ” Our new report for policymakers goes beyond simply showing that environmental change can increase risks to peace and security. That’s established.”
“What our research reveals is the complexity and breadth of that relationship, the many forms it can take. And most of all, we show what can be done about it; how we can deliver peace and security in a new era of risk,” he said.
With respect to seurity crisis, the number of state-based armed conflicts roughly doubled between 2010 and 2020 as did the number of conflict deaths. The number of refugees and other forcibly displaced people also doubled, to 82.4 million. In 2020, the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads increased after years of reductions, and in 2021 military spending surpassed $2 trillion for the first time ever. Coming to environmental crisis, around a quarter of all species are at risk of extinction, pollinating insects are in rapid decline and soil quality is falling while exploitation of natural resources such as forests and fish continues at unsustainable levels. Climate change is making extreme weather events such as storms and heatwaves more common and more intense, reducing the yield of major food crops and increasing the risk of large-scale harvest failure.
CONNECTION OF THE CRISIS
The report illustrates some of the complex ways that these two crises are starting to interact around the world, for example:
In Somalia, where prolonged drought and other climate change impacts, combined with poverty, lack of preparedness and weak movement, have driven people into the arms of the extremist group al-Shabab.
Across the Sahel, where drought and the expansion of farmland to feed a growing population are pushing farmers and nomadic herders into competition over access to resources such as land and water, and this competition often turns violent.
In Central America, where the impact of climate change on crops combined with violence and corruption increased the number of people attempting to migrate to the securitized US borders.
In the Middle East and North Africa, where in the early 2010s, failure of the Russian grain harvest due to a climate change-linked heatwave combined with the impacts of a US biofuels policy to raise the price of bread, exacerbating tensions that led to the Arab Spring series of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa
In the report, the authors said that since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, countries have recognized that ecological integrity is essential to human development. In 2021, the UN Human Rights Council formally recognized a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. Although every government is aware of climate change and wider environmental decline, and some have made progress on issues such as pollution and deforestation, they are collectively failing to tackle the major drivers with sufficient urgency, the report said. Among other impacts de grading the natural environment makes it more likely that diseases will spread from wild animals into the human population. And the last two years have shown how devastating such diseases can be, the report stated. Further, the authors said that with environmental degradation part of the security problem, restoring environmental integrity needs to be part of the security solution. This also implies an overwhelming need for more ambitious and more effective cooperation between governments on peace and security at every level, from conceptual to operational, because when the threat affects all countries, national assertiveness is clearly not going to be an effective response the SIPRI said,
The report argues that cooperation is essential for managing the environmental and security crises, along with the risks they create.
“No government can secure the well-being of its citizens against the escalating global crises without international cooperation, said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and a member of the Environment of Peace advisory panel. “ We must urgently find ways to cooperate on address ing common environment-related security threats, even m today’s toxic geopolitical landscape. Against global threats, cooperation is self-interest In fact, cooperation is the new realism,” Clark said.
JUST AND PEACEFUL TRANSITION WILL SUCCEED
To tackle climate change and the wider environmental crisis, governments around the world need to bring about major transitions in areas such as energy and land use. In the area of biodiversity, governments are discussing initiatives such as 30×30— protecting 30 per cent of land and ocean area by 2030. Environment of Peace argues that these transitions have to succeed because of the immense security risks that would result from failure. However, change at the scale and pace needed is unavoidably fraught with risk. The history of measures such as biofuels and hydropower dams shows that they can exacerbate insecurity, with hydropower alone having displaced an estimated 80 million people from their homes. “We must learn from the mistakes of the past so we do not repeat them on a much larger scale,” said Geoff Dabelko, one of the report’s lead authors and professor at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. “Conservation needs to happen, but it cannot be coercive. A rapid zero-carbon transition is essential but it must be done fairly. Tackling the environmental crisis must go hand-in-hand with justice, equity and rights, building peace rather than undermining it.”
FUND PEACE, NOT RISK
The governments at present spend an estimated $5-7 trillion per year on activities that can harm the natural environment, such as subsidizing fossil fuels, destructive fishing and forest clearance Governments have promised to phase out subsidies that promote fossil fuels, but they have routinely failed to deliver.
Environment of Peace cites many examples of initiatives that are building peace and environmental integrity together, which could be scaled up and adapted. It shows that to be effective, solutions need to be inclusive, with sectors of society that are often marginalized (such as Indigenous Peoples, women and youth) included il decision-making processes and sharing the benefits.
“Even as governments deal with acute situations such as the invasion of Ukraine or the Covid-19 pandemic, they cannot lose sight of the profound challenges that lie ahead,” Smith said.
PRINCIPLES FOR POLICY
The report sets out five principles to guide policymakers in addressing these issues!
1 Think fast, think ahead, act now. Establishing an environment of peace requires a far-sighted vision, but also swift, short-term action,
2 Cooperate to survive and thrive. The new era of risk demands a new mode of cooperation to address common threats.
3 Expect the unexpected—be prepared to adapt. Continuous horizon scanning, far-sighted analysis and adaptive implementation are needed to keep altead of unpredictably changing risks.
4 Only a Just and peaceful transition will succeed. In making the transition to environmentally sustainable societies, we must avoid creating new risks to peace.
5 By everyone for everyone. Decision-making processes from the United Nations down to community projects should include the people most affected.