Thursday, 4 February 2016

Climate Change: An Understated Security Phenomenon

This article will utilise the discourse of human security to aid our understanding of climate change as an indiscriminate, transnational security issue. This discourse allows us to focus on “the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who seek security in their daily lives” which includes the freedom from “existential threats… such as poverty, ill health and violence(Breslin & Christou, 2015, p. 1). The focal point of the individual is also encompassed in the UNFCCC’s understanding of climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere” (EEA, 2015). In acceptance of the definitions of both security and climate change, this essay will initially focus on the context that shifted climate change from the political sphere to the security agenda. We shall start with an exploration of food insecurity then move on to how this can create climate-induced migration and resource conflicts and then argue that the threat they pertain to individual and societal freedom from poverty ill-health and violence justifies climate change as a legitimate and understated security issue.

Climate change emerged as a political issue during the 1980’s when “the science of climate change began to solidify” (McDonald, 2013, p. 43) and underwent a period of securitisation during the 1990’s. Similarly, the concept of human security is a fairly recent phenomenon, only embraced by the UNDP in 1994. This critical turning point in our scholarship of security underpins our theoretical understanding of climate change as a security issue that stimulates new threats to new referent objects, in this case the referent object is the individual/community and their wellbeing. The broad spectrum of concerns in which climate change begets include “land use changes, loss of biodiversity, decline in fish stocks, growing greenhouse gas concentrations, the re-routing of rivers, mining of numerous minerals and covering over of land by concrete and asphalt” (Dalby, 2013, p. 35). We shall start our understanding of it as directly threatening freedom from ill-health and poverty.

Food security understood as  “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” (World Health Organisation, 2015) is measured in terms of “availability, stability, utilization, and access” (Schmidhuber & Tubiello, 2007), when an individual is denied food this detrimentally affects their freedom from poverty and ill-health.  Climate change, including “rising temperatures and ozone air pollution” (Tai, et al., 2014, p. 817)  damage efficient supply chains and personal ability to cultivate crops. This author argues that because of this “everyone is at risk” (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, 2008) which strengthens the need for a human security narrative. With “increases in the frequency and severity of extreme events such as cyclones, floods, hailstorms, and droughts” (Schmidhuber & Tubiello, 2007) the USA has raised concerns that “warmer temperatures could also reduce yields” (United States Environmental Protection Agency , 2015) which would threaten the national as well as global demand as the USA accounts for “more than 30% of all the wheat, corn and rice on the global market” (USEPA, 2015). This would have a dangerous catalytic effect that would not only effect the economic security of the USA but the personal security of individuals who rely on  that supply internally and externally. This represents climate change as a stimulant for resource insecurity, which in  turn threatens individual freedom from poverty.

This argument is intensified by the experience of the global south who are suffering the same threats to agriculture as those being dealt with in the USA as well as increasing populations. Global inequality lends itself to mitigate the threat in the global south due to a lack of technology that would allow communities to adapt. This leads to a domino effect of malnutrition, disease and ultimately death on the individual and community level, reinforcing the demand for a human security narrative. Reuters claim that “100 million will die by 2030 if the world fails to act on climate change” (Chestney, 2012) and that currently “5 million a year die from air pollution, hunger and disease” (Chestney, 2012). This author argues that this is the ultimate climate challenge to both personal and societal security and represents the indiscriminate and transnational nature of the threat. This correlation is most recently recognised in political practice through the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” (United Nations Development Programme , 2015) and is visible throughout the expanding sustainable agriculture programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. This goal recognises the need for sustainable agriculture as an adaptive policy to climate change and entrenches the relationship between food insecurity and climate change. The challenges studied here, justify the argument that climate change is a security issue that threatens the individual ability to refrain from poverty and ill-health. However, it is imperative in our understanding of climate change as a stimulant, that we recognise that individuals who don’t have access to such programs may be forced to flee which causes further security concerns.

Climate induced migration viewed through the lens of human security, threatens referent objects such as societal cohesion and essentially an individual’s freedom from violence. Migration studies claim that although “single ecological shocks are generally not the main drivers of demographic change” (De Juan, 2015, p. 24) the long-term effects of climate change can lead to permanent resource scarcity and forced displacement. However, it is suggested that “Sea-level rise will force the displacement of millions of Africans because of the submergence of land or loss of arable land due to saltwater intrusion” (Goff, et al., 2012), primarily in North Africa which despite resilience strategies would result in migration overseas. Merging populations, differences in culture and general disruption is a growing concern for some nations. For example, within the European Union there is concerns over “increased migration from Northern Africa to Europe that may result in conflict in transit or destination areas” (Goff, et al., 2012, p. 195), this claim has been critiqued as being the over dramatized securitization of climate change for politically motivated goals, however this author recognises that violence as a result of climate-induced migration is inevitable and empirically proven. In Bangladesh where “desertification in Dhaka has resulted in Bangladeshi’s fleeing over the border to India” (Vaid & Maini, 2013) has provoked a plethora of anxieties, not most the historical societal divisions and conflict between Indians and Bangladeshis. This migratory impact of resource depletion can have other security impacts such as the ability of the host state to resourcefully support a new population, as well as the safety of those who may have to travel in dangerous conditions to reach safety. For purposes of this essay this focus on the societal security threat gives us context as to how a combination of these threats can result in armed conflict and thus further the argument that climate change is a security issue that threatens an individual’s freedom from violence.

The emergence of armed conflicts in reaction to resource depletion serves to accentuate our understanding of it as a human security threat. This author argues that a transnational, community based understanding of the security dilemma best accounts for this situation. Ultimately “when a group of people suddenly find themselves compelled to provide its own protection, must ask the following question about its neighbours – is it a threat? How much of a threat?” (Posen, 1993, p. 27), if the threat is realised that group will then be vulnerable, it will then seek to build capacity of its own to counter it and thus create its own security. Empirical evidence to support this includes Meir’s study that “pastoral conflicts along the border of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have been the most intense in times of low rainfall, vegetation and foliage” (De Juan, 2015, p. 23).  Representative of an internal resource driven security dilemma on an arguably minor scale. Intensified by what is arguably the most notorious contemporary terror group, Da’esh, have claimed that “water shortages are one of the biggest challenges it faces” (Sabeh, et al., 2015). They have used their own militias to attack “water facilities in Ramadi and at the Haditha dam in Iraq” to manipulate access to some and restrict to others. The armed response of Da’esh is mirrored by the UN’s suggestion of using “green peacekeepers” (Rice, 2011), that this author argues legitimises violence as a strategy in dealing with resource depletion and justifies it as a threat to individual and societal freedom from violence.  The emergence of violent conflict in response to a transnational threat only serves to further justify this authors claim that climate change is a security issue that threatens freedom from violence.

This article has used the discourse of human security to understand the potent and dangerous threats that climate change can stimulate. By focusing primarily on the referents of the individual’s freedom from poverty, ill-health and violence, I have explained the challenges climate change can stimulate and accentuate, maintaining the argument that it is a global threat. Although it must be noted that there are a large plethora of other threats and discourses in which we can view climate change, which only further enforces it as a security issue. The erratic range of responses that have been witnessed from green peacekeepers to ethnic conflict, only justifies the uncertainty of how we are to deal with the threats that are constantly evolving and is what allows for our understanding of climate change as a contemporary security issue to solidify.


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