Environmental security

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Environmental security examines threats posed by environmental events and trends to individuals, communities or nations. It may focus on the impact of human conflict and international relations on the environment, or on how environmental problems cross state borders.


The Millennium Project assessed definitions of environmental security and created a synthesis definition:

Environmental security is environmental viability for life support, with three sub-elements:

  • preventing or repairing military damage to the environment,
  • preventing or responding to environmentally caused conflicts, and
  • protecting the environment due to its inherent moral value.

It considers the abilities of individuals, communities or nations to cope with environmental risks, changes or conflicts, or limited natural resources. For example, climate change can be viewed a threat to environmental security. Human activity impacts CO2 emissions, impacting regional and global climatic and environmental changes and thus changes in agricultural output. This can lead to food shortages which will then cause political debate, ethnic tension, and civil unrest.[1]

Environmental security is an important concept in two fields: international relations and international development.

Within international development, projects may aim to improve aspects of environmental security such as food security or water security, but also connected aspects such as energy security, that are now recognised as Sustainable Development goals at UN level.[2] Targets for MDG 7 about environmental sustainability show international priorities for environmental security. Target 7B is about the security of fisheries on which many people depend for food. Fisheries are an example of a resource that cannot be contained within state borders. A conflict before the International Court of Justice between Chile and Peru about maritime borders and their associated fisheries[3] is a case study for environmental security.


The Copenhagen School defines the referent object of environmental security as the environment, or some strategic part of it.[4]

Historically, the definition of international security has varied over time. After World War II, definitions typically focused on the subject of realpolitik that developed during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As tensions between the superpowers eased after the collapse of the Soviet Union, academic discussions of definitions of security significantly expanded to encompass a far broader range of threats to peace, including, particularly, environmental threats associated with the political implications of resource use or pollution. By the mid-1980s, this field of study was becoming known as "environmental security". Despite a wide range of semantic and academic debates over terms, it is now widely acknowledged that environmental factors play both direct and indirect roles in both political disputes and violent conflicts.

In the academic sphere environmental security is defined as the relationship between security concerns such as armed conflict and the natural environment. A small but rapidly developing field, it has become particularly relevant for those studying resource scarcity and conflict in the developing world. Prominent early researchers in the field include Felix Dodds, Norman Myers, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Michael Renner, Richard Ullman, Arthur Westing, Michael Klare, Thomas Homer Dixon, Geoffrey Dabelko, Peter Gleick, and Joseph Romm.

Selected early literature[edit]

  • Brown, L. 1977. "Redefining Security,” WorldWatch Paper 14 (Washington, D.C.: WorldWatch Institute)
  • Ullman, R.H. 1983. “Redefining Security,” International Security 8, No. 1 (Summer 1983): 129-153.
  • Westing, A.H. 1986. “An Expanded Concept of International Security,” In Global Resources and International Conflict, ed. Arthur H. Westing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Myers, N. 1986. “The Environmental Dimension to Security Issues.” The Environmentalist 6 (1986): pp. 251–257.
  • Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich. 1988. The Environmental Dimensions of National Security. Stanford, CA: Stanford Institute for Population and Resource Studies.
  • Svensson, U. 1988. “Environmental Security: A Concept.” Presented at the International Conference on Environmental Stress and Security, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden, December 1988.
  • Mathews, J.T. 1989. “Redefining Security,” Foreign Affairs 68, No. 2 (Spring 1989): 162-177.
  • Gleick, P H. “The Implications of Global Climate Changes for International Security.” Climate Change 15 (October 1989): pp. 303–325.
  • Gleick, P.H. 1990c. "Environment, resources, and international security and politics." In E. Arnett (ed.) Science and International Security: Responding to a Changing World. American Association for the Advancement of Science Press, Washington, D.C. pp. 501–523.
  • Gleick, P.H. 1991b. "Environment and security: The clear connections." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 16–21.
  • Homer-Dixon, T.F. 1991. “On the Threshold: Environmental Changes as Causes of Acute Conflict, International Security 16, No. 2 (Fall 1991): 76-116
  • Romm, Joseph (1992). The Once and Future Superpower: How to Restore America's Economic, Energy, and Environmental Security. New York: William Morrow & Co.  ISBN 0-688-11868-2
  • Romm, Joseph J. 1993. Defining National Security: The Nonmilitary Aspects (New York: Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Levy, M.A. 1995. “Is the Environment a National Security Issue?” International Security 20, No. 2 (Fall 1995)
  • Swain, A. 1996. "Displacing the Conflict: Environmental Destruction in Bangladesh and Ethnic Conflict in India." Journal of Peace Research, 33(2), 189–204.
  • Wallensteen, P., & Swain, A. 1997. "Environment, Conflict and Cooperation." In D. Brune, D. Chapman, M. Gwynne, & J. Pacyna, The Global Environment. Science, Technology and Management (Vol. 2, pp. 691–704). Weinheim: VCH Verlagsgemeinschaft mbH.
  • Terminski, Bogumil. 2009. “Environmentally-Induced Displacement. Theoretical Frameworks and Current Challenges”, CEDEM, Université de Liège.
  • Dabelko, G.D. 1996. “Ideas and the Evolution of Environmental Security Conceptions.” Paper presented at the International Studies Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, April 1996.
  • Kobtzeff, Oleg. 2000. “Environmental Security and Civil Society”, in- Gardner, Hall, (ed.) Central and South-central Europe in Transition, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2000, pp. 219–296.
  • Dodds, F. Pippard, T. 2005. (edited) "Human and Environmental Security: An Agenda for Change, London. Earthscan.
  • Dodds, F. Higham, A. Sherman, R. 2009. (edited) "Climate Change and Energy Insecurity: The Challenge for Peace, Security and Development", London. Earthscan
  • Djoghlaf, A. Dodds, F. 2010 (edited) "Biodiversity and Ecosystem Insecurity: A Planet in Peril", London, Earthscan
  • Dodds, F. Bartram, J. 2016 (edited) "The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and an agenda for action", London, Routledge

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chalecki, Elizabeth. Environmental Security: A Case Study of Climate Change. Pacific Institute for Studies of Development, Environment, and Security
  2. ^ Farah, Paolo Davide (2015). "Sustainable Energy Investments and National Security: Arbitration and Negotiation Issues". JOURNAL OF WORLD ENERGY LAW AND BUSINESS 8 (6). Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Maritime Dispute (Peru v. Chile)". The Hague Justice Portal. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  4. ^ Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]