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OPINION: A look at the Amazon through the lens of climate security

Also posted in Spanish

by Martin Ross

Climate change has been on the United Nations’ agenda since the beginning of the 70’s. The issue has been gaining visibility since the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit in Rio) in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol declaration in 1997. Until then, the security element of climate change had not been recognized.

The food crisis in Africa in 2005, principally associated with global warming, convinced the United Nations staff members dealing with the climate change to include the term “security threat” in the debate on climate change. The climate change and its possible security implications: Report of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (2009) identified four channels through which climate change could affect security: 1) Threats to human wellbeing; 2) Threats to economic development; 3) Threats arising from a non-coordinated response; and, 4) Threats to international cooperation in the management of shared resources. South America cannot be compared, for example, to the Middle East in being a high conflict risk area. However, the continent is brimming with natural resources and supplies many countries with beef, soya, sugar cane and coffee, among other products. Climate change poses a threat to traditional agriculture that could lead to international and intra-regional tensions.

The well coined phrase “the curse of resources” (the paradox of abundance) is generally used to refer to the oil producing countries of Africa. However if the tendencies continue the same problems could arise in the Amazon, which could affect state and economic performance and therefore increase the possibilities for conflict between countries, regions and even communities. The Brazilian Defense Minister has proposed increasing Brazil’s military presence in the Amazon to “protect their natural resources” from external interests.

The tropical jungle of the Amazon regulates a good part of South America’s climate and forms an essential part of the hydrological cycle of the Continent. Reduced rainfall and higher temperatures threaten to destroy this natural balance, affecting both the growing and food production seasons. The very probable result would be reduced access to goods and environmental services that cover basic human necessities like food, water, energy and health. With good management, these forces could lead the countries to greater regional cooperation.

For this reason, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT from its initials in Spanish) and the Global Canopy Program (GCP) have joined forces on the Amazon Security Agenda. The aim is to involve regional policy makers in dialogue on climate change as a threat to sustainable development and peace. With funding from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the general objective is to strengthen regional cooperation, which would contribute to maintaining and managing the natural resources in the region.

By evaluating the security risks related to food, water, energy and health and by giving recommendations to existing ministerial regional policy making platforms (such as NATO, the Andean Community of Nations, Mercosur), the project seeks to convert foreseeable threats into “opportunity multipliers.” The project’s zone includes the Andean Amazon of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

The Amazon Security Agenda shows how security in food, water, energy and health security are interconnected and how climate change can affect them. Due to this interdependence, corresponding policies must be coordinated between all countries and all security sectors.

Climate change through the lens of climate security shows us that policy makers should look further afield than the environmental aspect to the socio political implications, and transform a threat multiplier into an opportunity multiplier.

Post originally published in CIAT Blogs
Image credit:  Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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