Protecting the Earth, Preserving Peace

Preventing Environmental Threats to Security

Jun 02, 2004

Download summary report: Environment and Security

Environmental problems—-climate change, water scarcity, population growth, pollution, and natural disasters—-are some of the most powerful and least understood challenges we face. But how can collective actors like the United Nations prevent environment-related conflict, and can they use the environment to build peace between nations?

Calling this post-Iraq moment "no less decisive than 1945 itself," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan convened a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change to improve how the United Nations prevents and removes threats to peace. Eminent world citizens like Brent Scowcroft, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Sadako Ogata, and Nafis Sadik will recommend clear and practical measures for ensuring effective collective responses to the world's security problems, ranging from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to "soft threats" like extreme poverty and disease.

As part of the United Nations Foundation's United Nations and Global Security Initiative, the Environmental Change & Security Project at the Wilson Center invited international experts to provide the panel with fresh intellectual insights into environmental security. Leading thinkers in the fields of water, climate change, and natural resources answered three questions posed by the panel:

  • What is the link between environment and security?
  • What can be done about it?
  • What contributions can be made by collective action mechanisms such as the United Nations?

    The UN Foundation published a summary report outlining the experts' recommendations to the High-Level Panel.

    Three short policy briefs on water, climate change, and natural resources were discussed at a June 2 meeting at the Wilson Center by a group of experts:

  • "Linkages between Environment, Population, and Development" by
    Michael Renner and Hilary French of Worldwatch Institute

  • "Water, Conflict, and Cooperation" by Alexander Carius (Adelphi Research), Geoffrey D. Dabelko (Woodrow Wilson Center), and Aaron T. Wolf (Oregon State University)

  • "The Security Implications of Climate Change for the UN System" by Nigel Purvis and Joshua Busby of The Brookings Institution

    These papers will be submitted to the High-Level Panel to inform their final report, which will be issued in December 2004. Other policy briefs commissioned by the United Nations Foundation address the use of force, deadly arms, terrorism, international peacebuilding, and efforts to reform the United Nations. The UN Foundation encourages citizens to submit papers or comments to its Global Security Initiative.

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