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FEATURE: The thin line between climate change and security: new room for optimism? Some evidence from the Amazon region


by: Andreea Nowak

Will long-term climate change and environmental shocks bring about novel collective action solutions or will they fuel conflicts and a bleak future for all? Are there alternative ways to picture security in a context where changes and variations in climate are imminent and where more than 2.5 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities, 760 million people lack access to safe water and other 870 million suffer from chronic hunger (FAO 2012; UNICEF 2013)?

These were some of the many pertinent ideas discussed during the conference Climate Change and Security at the Crossroads. Pathways to Conflict or Cooperation?, held in Kristiansand, Norway, in June 2013. The Conference, organized by the Research Group on Climate Change and Security of the University of Hamburg and the Department of Development Studies, of the University of Agder (Norway), brought together researchers, practitioners and students from different countries and disciplines to exchange views on the potential pathways from climate change to cooperation. During the conference, complex linkages between these variables and the manifold intervening factors were explored by means of large-N analyses and case-study research.

Some main take-home ideas from the conference and relevant for climate security research are summarized here:

  • Scale and approach matters: Different quantifications of environmental shocks and operationalization of conflicts, different sub-samples and time periods lead to different results and hence the relationship between climate change and shocks and human security is highly context and scale-specific.
  • Response effectiveness may be dependent on the ability to integrate climate change with disaster- risk reduction agendas and thus integrate short-term with long-term responses(More information about the approach here)
  • Solutions to climate-related challenges depend on the ability of the scientific community to effectively communicate research to policy and decision makers. This includes strategic partnerships between researchers, practitioners and the policy sphere; accurate, timely and easy-to-digest information; inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral platforms for knowledge sharing; alignment of research to national priorities; readiness  to make research findings more appealing to policy makers (e.g. economic impacts)

Representing DAPA at the event, Carolina Navarrete-Frias and Andreea Nowak presented some preliminary findings of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)-funded project “Amazonia- the Security Agenda: Responding to Imminent Threats”. The aim was to move away the discussion from a bleak focus on climate change as a “threat multiplier”, to a more optimistic debate on opportunities for regional cooperation, via innovative policy interventions. At the same time, the presentation attempted to offer an understanding of the complex inter-linkages between food, energy, water and health security, how they are affected by climate change and how water security underpins this critical nexus in the Amazon basin.

As an economic driver for development, the Amazon region provides annually $10s of billions into the financial markets of South American nations. There is a growing global demand for its resources. For instance, Chinese demand for Amazonian soy produce is up nearly tenfold since 2000, this market driven production accounted of 70% of Brazil’s soy exports in 2012. Furthermore, prosperity in Latin America has grown hand in hand with expansive degradation and deforestation and unequal distribution of resources, especially within local inhabitants.

Among the many human-induced threats to the various securities in the Amazon region, a contemporary preoccupation is the increasing demand for water for agriculture, mining activities and hydropower projects. This not only has important implications on water availability and quality, but also on inhabitants’ health (e.g. water-borne diseases). Furthermore, climate models, although not 100% certain, predict a wetter Western and drier Eastern Amazon by 2050 and it’s thought that Amazonia may experience drought every other year by as soon as 2025. This may further threaten availability of water for household consumption, food production, electricity generation or infrastructure, but also lead to increased inference of diseases.

In this sense, researchers for the ASA project, in collaboration with high-level regional decision makers are working towards identifying several windows of opportunity for improved policy avenues that would minimize threats to securities and contribute to the reduction of existing inequities, inequalities and poverty rates in the region. The results of these efforts will be launched in the near future.

For more details about the ASA Project, follow the articles on our blog: Amazonia’s security dilemma – Why climate security matters (English) and Lanzamiento del Proyecto “Amazonía – La Agenda de Seguridad” Inicia Diálogos Bilaterales entre Diversos Actores (Spanish) and the power point presentation from the Conference (http://www.slideshare.net/ciatdapa/presentation-amazonia-kristiansand-june-2013). Also, click here to view the Conference agenda. A Conference Proceedings material will be announced soon.

This post was originally published by CIAT

Image credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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