Introducing Environmental Security

The relationship between environmental change, stress, and environmental degradation relative to the issue of security has garnered increased importance as new challenges have emerged since the end of the Cold War. The question of the relationship between environment and security is now a common interest among both the scientific and policy communities, especially as the traditional security concepts based on national sovereignty have been revisited following changes in the European political landscape at the end of the twentieth century.

The notion of environmental security has been historically linked to environmentally induced conflicts caused by environmental degradation in one or more of the following fields: overuse of renewable resources, pollution, or impoverishment of human-settled places. The notion has been developed mainly by international policy researchers and has focused on the role of the scarcity of renewable resources such as cropland, forests, water, and fish stocks. Attention has been devoted to the theoretical analysis of possible insecure pathways, beginning with scarcity and leading to outbreaks of violence. Thus, environmental security has been discussed as a concept of international security policy.

Environmental degradation has various impacts on the behavior of the involved actors and might play a role as reason, trigger, target, channel, and catalyst of conflicts. The decrease in quantity and quality of resources, rapid population growth, and unequal resource access are the basic drivers behind increasing environment-related security risks. Notably renewable resources like water and land are crucial factors in security issues, especially with respect to instability and migration between and within countries or regions. Scarcity of nonrenewable resources can contribute to instability in the international as well as in the national contexts.

The question then arises as to how such environmental stresses and the associated risks might evolve. While the debate on these issues is still ongoing, it is increasingly accepted that environmental threats are escalating contributors to insecurity and social conflicts among and within countries.

Results of the increasing human appropriation of regional landscapes can have a variety of ecological effects directly drawing on the notion of environmental security. Focusing on environmental security is the essential step to be developed in the study of interactions between humans and the environment in social-ecological systems (SESs) (see Socioecological Systems), which in the real geographic world are social-ecological landscapes (SELs) (see Fitness Landscapes), and it is critical in understanding how humans create and respond to environmental change.

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