Environmental Security Heats Up as Obama Administration Prepares to Tackle Climate, Energy

Latest ECSP Report Covers New Security Issues: Environment, Population, and Health

Dec 22, 2008

As the Obama team takes over, the 13th issue of the Environmental Change and Security Program Report details the non-traditional security threats—and opportunities—it faces. "Environmental security is making a comeback," says ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko, "notably in the United States, where signs indicate that the next administration will tackle environment, population, health, and development challenges that impact security." The unprecedented level of interest in climate change's security implications "provides an opportunity to promote new approaches that recognize the links connecting issues and to create integrated programs that address them," says Dabelko in his foreword, "Environmental Security Heats Up."

To receive a hard copy of the report, please email ecsp@wilsoncenter.org.

In "New Directions in Demographic Security," seven demographic experts analyze the links connecting population and environmental dynamics to conflict:

  • Global Population: "Population distortions—in which populations grow too young, or too fast, or too urbanized—make it difficult for prevailing economic and administrative institutions to maintain stable socialization and labor-force absorption," says Jack A. Goldstone. "The most logical way to overcome the population distortions in varied regions will be to ease the barriers to movement across borders."
  • Youth Bulges: "The dissipation of a large youth bulge tends to yield relative political calm," says Richard Cincotta. On the other hand, democratic gains under youth-bulge conditions "face unfavorable odds." Using age-structure data, he assesses the fragility of existing liberal democracies and forecasts when new ones will emerge.
  • Defense Policy: U.S. defense policymakers should watch four demographic trends, says Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: youthful populations, changes in military personnel, international migration, and urbanization. "The military does not always have the tools to address these population and development issues, but by drawing on a wider community for support, they lessen the chances that they will have to deal with the consequences," she says.
  • Climate Change: Using geo-referenced data, Clionadh Raleigh and Henrik Urdal find that population growth and density are related to increased civil conflict, but that demographic and environmental factors are generally outweighed by political and economic ones. Therefore, they call for "paying greater attention to how resources are distributed and how political institutions create vulnerability to climate change."
  • Migration: Analyzing demographic trends on the small-island nations of Mauritius and Fiji, Christian Leuprecht argues that "the impact of migration on conflict is a man-made problem; the way migration is managed (or not) can determine its potential for mitigating or escalating a conflict."
  • Age Structure: From 1970-2000, "only 13 percent of countries with a very young age structure had fully democratic governments, compared with 83 percent of countries with a mature age structure," points out Elizabeth Leahy, who compares and contrasts age structures' connection to conflict in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Iran, and Pakistan.

From Conflict to Peacebuilding: UNEP's Role in Environmental Assessment and Recovery
"If people cannot find clean water for drinking, wood for shelter and energy, or land for crops, what are the chances that peace will be successful and durable? Very slim," says David Jensen of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), who describes UNEP's activities in Afghanistan, Sudan, and other areas of conflict. "UNEP seeks to ensure that countries rebuilding from conflict identify the sustainable use of natural resources as a fundamental prerequisite and guiding principle of their reconstruction and recovery."

Making the Population-Climate Change Connection: An Ethical Argument
As interest in the relationship between global population growth and climate change grows, Suzanne Petroni calls for "a thoughtful and deliberative dialogue around voluntary family planning's contribution to mitigating climate change," which could "increase awareness not only of the outsized contribution of developed nations to global emissions, but also of their appropriate role in the global community."

Navigating Peace: Trends in Water Conflict and Cooperation
Although water rarely leads to wars between countries, it frequently contributes to local-level conflict. Four policy briefs commissioned by the Navigating Peace Initiative identify current and emerging trends in water conflict and cooperation across the world, including the Nile Basin and southern Africa.

The Best of the Beat: Selections From the Award-Winning New Security Beat Blog
Read some of the best blog posts from the New Security Beat's first year. Georgetown University's Colin Kahl analyzes Kenya's history of demographically and environmentally induced ethnic land strife, while ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko offers a word of caution on "climate change refugees."

A Bushel of Book Reviews
Leaf through expert reviews of 20 recent books and reports at the nexus of population, environment, and security, including The Greening of the U.S. Military, Return of the Population Growth Factor, and Peace Parks: Conservation and Conflict Resolution.

On the Record at the Wilson Center
"On the Record," a compendium of quotations from the past year of ECSP meetings, features many candid assessments of global environmental, population, and security issues. For example, Emmanuel Mtiti of the Jane Goodall Institute told a Wilson Center audience that rural Tanzanians "need to cut trees for charcoal, and once they sell charcoal they get school fees, or they buy their food or they buy their medicines. Now, if you tell them, ‘Don't cut trees,' then what next? It's like telling Americans ‘don't drive.'"

Experts & Staff