A report by WWF and adelphi looks at the complex nexus between nature and security. The report outlines four pathways through which environmental degradation and biodiversity loss act as drivers of insecurity and exacerbate conflict situations, besides advancing further environmental degradation.
Biodiversity loss and climate change
Through humanity’s wide-ranging impacts on nature, the safe operating space for the Earth’s natural systems to provide the basis for human wellbeing, prosperity and security has now been crossed. This is particularly true for two closely interlinked crises: biodiversity loss and climate change. Ecosystems, which both sustain and depend on a balanced climate and healthy biodiversity, are at the centre of this double crisis.
Increasing insecurity and conflict
At the same time, the world is experiencing increasing insecurity and conflict. Both intrastate and interstate conflict had been declining since the end of the Cold War, but in the last decade, the number of war deaths has risen significantly again compared to the preceding decade. Hand in hand with these developments, geopolitical tensions between regional and global powers have increased as well. Today in 2022, with the war in Ukraine, geopolitical tensions have reached levels reminiscent of the Cold War that will likely shape global politics and relationships for the years to come.
Both the consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change, as well as conflict and insecurity, are far-reaching and touch all aspects of human society. However, we are not just seeing a confluence of environmental crisis and conflict; nature and conflict are increasingly interacting. Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are important drivers of insecurity and conflict around the world and, as they intensify, they also increasingly impact global peace and security. Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are part of a complex web of interactions among different social, economic, political and environmental risk drivers. Simultaneously, conflict and insecurity contribute to environmental destruction and degradation. Together, these interactions form the nature-security nexus.
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in 201 river basins around the world experience severe water scarcity during at least one month a year
The climate-security nexus and the nature-security nexus overlap and cannot be fully addressed independently of one another. In fact, environmental factors are often a critical link in the pathway from climate change impacts to security risks. However, the nature-security nexus comprises additional interactions in which climate impacts play no or only smaller aggravating roles. Hence, the nature-security nexus puts biodiversity and ecosystems rather than climate change at its centre. This perspective allows for assessing the whole breadth of interactions between environment, peace and security.
"Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss can negatively affect natural resources, livelihoods and human security, which in turn can contribute to conflicts, crime and political instability. At the same time, war and conflict have direct negative impacts on the environment and environmental crime and illegal exploitation of natural resources, ecosystems and wildlife, and play a role in prolonging conflict, undermining peace processes and fostering organised crime."
A comprehensive environmental security agenda
Four main pathways form the nature-security nexus. These pathways spell out the different ways in which environmental degradation and biodiversity loss interact with conflict, insecurity and peace:
Ecosystem and biodiversity loss, livelihood insecurity and political instability
The environment, conflict financing and organised crime
Competition and conflicts around natural resources
The impacts of war and conflict on the environment
The four pathways clearly show that environmental crises and insecurity often reinforce each other. This vicious circle makes stability and peace harder to achieve and maintain. At the same time, it deepens the environmental crises humanity is facing, in particular biodiversity loss and climate change. Together, they threaten the very basis of human civilization: its wellbeing, livelihoods and peace.
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The study also reflects the progress made in the scientific assessment of the concept of security over the past 30 years. However, as far as current crises and conflicts are concerned, there is an urgent need for increased preventive measures and resilience building.
Senior Advisor and Security Expert at adelphi
A comprehensive environmental security agenda
The authors of the study therefore propose a comprehensive environmental security agenda that all actors in the field of security, environment and development should commit to. Joint action should focus on addressing the root causes of environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, insecurity and conflict. The four identified pathways of the nature-security nexus can serve as multi-dimensional starting points for future action and possible next steps in shaping a comprehensive environmental security agenda. This would complement existing activities and initiatives on climate-related security risks.
Recommendations for the UN
The report contains several constructive proposals for various UN bodies, programmes, funding instruments, specialised agencies and committees. For example, the researchers advise the UN Security Council to take the nature-security nexus into account in peacekeeping missions. It is recommended that the General Assembly be institutionally strengthened to address the nature-security nexus throughout the UN system. The Development Programme (UNDP) should further strengthen its integrated programmes linking sustainable development, environment and human security. The World Food Programme (WFP) could further develop strategies to reduce aid and assistance dependency in the long term.