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Climate change and security: Towards ecological security?


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Climate change is increasingly characterized as a security issue. Yet we see nothing approaching consensus about the nature of the climate change–security relationship. Indeed existing depictions in policy statements and academic debate illustrate radically different conceptions of the nature of the threat posed, to whom and what constitute appropriate policy responses. These different climate security discourses encourage practices as varied as national adaptation and globally oriented mitigation action. Given the increasing prominence of climate security representations and the different implications of these discourses, it is important to consider whether we can identify progressive discourses of climate security: approaches to this relationship underpinned by defensible ethical assumptions and encouraging effective responses to climate change. Here I make a case for an ecological security discourse. Such a discourse orients towards ecosystem resilience and the rights and needs of the most vulnerable across space (populations of developing worlds), time (future generations), and species (other living beings). This paper points to the limits of existing accounts of climate security before outlining the contours of an ‘ecological security discourse’ regarding climate change. It concludes by reflecting on the challenges and opportunities for such discourse in genuinely informing how political communities approach the climate change–security relationship.
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International Theory (2018), 10:2, 153180
Cambridge University Press, 2018
Climate change and security: towards
ecological security?
School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
Climate change is increasingly characterized as a security issue. Yet we see nothing
approaching consensus about the nature of the climate changesecurity relationship.
Indeed existing depictions in policy statements and academic debate illustrate radically
different conceptions of the nature of the threat posed, to whom and what constitute
appropriate policy responses. These different climate security discourses encourage
practices as varied as national adaptation and globally oriented mitigation action.
Given the increasing prominence of climate security representations and the different
implications of these discourses, it is important to consider whether we can identify
progressive discourses of climate security: approaches to this relationship underpinned
by defensible ethical assumptions and encouraging effective responses to climate
change. Here I make a case for an ecological security discourse. Such a discourse
orients towards ecosystem resilience and the rights and needs of the most vulnerable
across space (populations of developing worlds), time (future generations), and species
(other living beings). This paper points to the limits of existing accounts of climate
security before outlining the contours of an ecological security discourseregarding
climate change. It concludes by reecting on the challenges and opportunities for such
discourse in genuinely informing how political communities approach the climate
changesecurity relationship.
Keywords: climate, security, ecological, ethics, resilience, Anthropocene
In global politics, climate change is increasingly conceived as a security
issue. Key international institutions, most notably the UN Security Council
but also the UN General Assembly, have discussed the regional and inter-
national security implications of climate change on several occasions since
2007. A range of states, by one estimation over 70% of those who
have released national security strategy documents (Scott 2015, 1330),
have explicitly recognized the threat of climate change in national security
planning. And while nding increasing purchase at the level of security
practice in global politics, public policy-oriented think-tanks have
particularly emphasized the role of climate change as a threat multiplier
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(see Dalby 2015b).
These voices have joined media outlets and interna-
tional organizations in linking climate change to contemporary conicts in
Darfur and Syria, for example, and even to the rise of Daesh (see Strozier
and Berkell 2014; Schafer, Scheffran, and Penniket 2016). And of course, a
range of scholars of international relations have explored the relationship
between climate change and security, with several suggesting it constitutes
the security issue confronting present and future generations (see Burke,
Lee-Koo and McDonald 2016).
But if we have seen the increasing securitizationof climate change in global
politics, it does not follow that we have seen a consensus about the way in
which climate change threatens security or indeed on the issue of whose
security it threatens. While some actors have focused on climate change as a
trigger for conict and associated threats to national security (Busby 2007,
2008), others have focussed on the challenges posed to international stability
or to the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable human populations directly
exposed to manifestations of climate change (Barnett et al. 2010). These
different conceptions of the climate changesecurity relationship can
ultimately be located in different security discourses: frameworks of
meaning with different conceptions of whose security is at stake;
what threatens security; which actors are capable of or even responsible
for providing security; and through what means. The latter point is a
particularly important feature of these discourses, suggesting that these
frameworks encourage different sets of responses to climate change (see
McDonald 2013; Floyd 2015; Diez, von Lucke, and Wellmann 2016; Hardt
2017). While some discourses privilege adaptive measures to protect the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, others encourage urgent miti-
gation efforts oriented to the welfare and resilience of vulnerable communities.
Recognition that there are multiple ways of approaching this relation-
ship, and that these have different implications in terms of the practices they
encourage and discourage, raises important questions. Certainly, it raises
questions about the analytical, political, and ethical choices made around
how to conceptualize this relationship. But more importantly, a recognition
that different discourses encourage different responses to climate change
raises questions about what types of discourses are most likely to encourage
progressive approaches to climate change, oriented towards addressing the
problem itself and the needs of those most vulnerable to it. How should we
approach the climatesecurity relationship? What sets of assumptions and
choices should inform the way political communities come to understand
(and subsequently approach) this relationship? And what possibilities exist
Public policy think-tanks engaging with the climate changesecurity relationship include the
CNA, WGBU, Adelphi, Brookings, CNAS, RUSI and Chatham House, among others.
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for such a discourse of climate security to nd support or purchase within
those communities?
In this paper, I make a case for an ecological security discourse in
informing approaches to the climate changesecurity relationship. Such a
discourse is oriented towards ecosystem resilience and with it the rights and
needs of the most vulnerable across time, space, and species: impoverished
populations in developing states; future generations; and other living
beings. It suggests the need to radically alter the way we conceive of the
relationship between humans and the natural world (see, e.g. Morton
2007), not least in the context of the Anthropocene, and the need to orient
our actions towards maintaining ecosystem functions in the context of
perturbation and change. The focus here is on urgent mitigation action to
quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but with a place for adaptation to
what are now unavoidable impacts of climate change. And in terms of
agency, all those with the capacity to generate avoidable harms to eco-
systems have a responsibility to provide ecological security, with those
responsibilities varying based on the extent of contribution to those harms
and the capabilities of those actors.
This discourse of climate security faces difcult challenges. For some, any
attempt to articulate a framework that extends our moral universe beyond
contemporary human communities is inherently problematic. Objections range
from the tendency towards misanthropicism or ecofascism to the impossibility
of accounting for the needs of non-humans or future humans, to the difculty of
how we dene the biosphere or ecosystems themselves in need of protection (see
McShane 2014). Then there are strategic questions of practicality and purchase.
With signicant challenges facing attempts to orient security practices towards
the rights and needs of vulnerable human populations, is it really possible to
imagine an ecological perspective genuinely informing the way key institutions
and the communities they represent approach climate security? And of course,
there is the issue of whether we should engage with securityat all, not least
given concerns that security constitutes a master narrativethat serves to pre-
serve a national or international status quo and concerns that securitization
will encourage inappropriate and even counter-productive responses to climate
change. This paper will address these concerns, engaging with ethical and ana-
lytical objections while making the case that we need to engage security precisely
because it underpins the legitimacy of the key institutions of global politics. In
this sense, the politics of security necessitates engaging with attempts to secur-
itize climate change, pointing to the implications of different climate security
discourses, and making a case for a more progressive framework for
approaching this relationship.
This paper proceeds in four stages. In the rst section, I make a case for
approaching this question through the lens of competing security
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discourses. The second section notes engagement with the climate change
security relationship, locating this engagement in discourses of climate
security. The third section of the paper outlines the key contours of an
ecological security discourse regarding climate change. I conclude with a
discussion of the signicant challenges facing its articulation, embrace, and
institutionalization, noting possibilities for such a discourse to inform
political practice.
Why security?
There is nothing inevitable about approaching climate change, or con-
testation over approaches to climate change, through the lens of security.
For some, security might be largely irrelevant to this contestation. Broader
arguments about the distribution of costs, timeframes, and vulnerabilities
playing out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC) process may be viewed as far more consequential to the
international politics of climate change than (even high-prole) discussions
in the UNSC. Maarten Hajer (1995) has mapped discursive contestation
over environmental change in a manner similar to that employed here,
without dening this competition as orienting around the question (or
content) of security (see also Dryzek 1997). And Matthew Paterson (2009)
has argued that the language of economics and ethics has been more suc-
cessful in mobilizing international responses to climate change and feeding
into consequential discussions about its impacts in the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example. These analyses question the
necessity of approaching contestation over climate change as contestation
over the meaning and practice of security.
For others still, rather than irrelevant to or unnecessary for under-
standing the politics of climate change, the language of security may, in fact,
be dangerous. Daniel Deudney (1991) has cautioned against linking the
environment and security, suggesting that the logics of the latter are
inconsistent with effective responses to environmental change, risking the
militarization of the environment. In linking security with illiberal, state-
based practices, Deudney here outlines concerns later articulated by
theorists of the Copenhagen School. These theorists reject the idea of an
abstract, universal denition of security, and point instead to the
constructed nature of security. For them, the process of securitization
entails speech acts depicting particular issues as existential threats being
endorsed by relevant constituencies, enabling emergency measures in
response to that threat. Rather than simply developing an analytical
account of the politics of security, however, Ole Wæver (1995) and others
advanced the normative claim that desecuritization (the removal of issues
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from the security agenda) is generally to be preferred in practice. For these
theorists, rejecting security follows their view that at the heart of the con-
cept (of security) we still nd something to do with defence and the state
(Wæver 1995, 47), and/or because security has a logic that is ultimately
illiberal, exclusionary and exceptionalist (Buzan, Wæver, and Wilde 1998;
McDonald 2008; Hansen 2012).
This skeptical view is generally endorsed in post-structural accounts of
security, which have tended to dene security representations as state
declarations of the exceptionthat serve to enable control of populations
and exceptionalist practices (e.g. Berki 1981; Campbell 1992; C.A.S.E.
Collective 2006). Most starkly, in Mark Neocleousterms, security can be
understood as:
the master narrative through which the state shapes our lives and imagi-
nations producing and organizing subjects in a way that is always
already predisposed towards the exercise of violence in defence of the
established order (2008, 5).
Finally, rejecting security is also a recommendation of recent post-
humanist accounts of ecology with which this paper shares common
philosophical and normative ground. Cudworth and Hobden (2013, 664),
for example, warn against approaching environmental issues within the
existing frameworks of securitization and governance(on this point, see
also Buxton and Hayes 2015; Marzec 2015; Fagan 2017).
By and large, the analysis to follow does not challenge the arguments
advanced by Hajer, Paterson, and others that it is possible to examine
contestation over environmental change generally, and climate change
specically, other than through the lens of security. This is clearly the case.
What I would suggest here, however, is that the attempt to draw linkages
between security and climate change are becoming more prominent and
consequential, as noted. Recent analyses of the role of climate change in
conict in Syria (Gleick 2014; Baker 2015; Selby et al. 2017) and even the
rise of Daesh (Strozier and Berkell 2014), building on earlier discussion of
the role of climate change in conict in Darfur (Moon 2007; UNEP 2007),
illustrates growing engagement with the role of climate change as a so-
called threat multiplier(CNA 2007). It has found its way into delibera-
tions of key international institutions (from the UN Security Council to the
General Assembly), and features more often than not in statesnational
security strategy documents (Brzoska 2008; Scott 2015).
If this is the case if climate change is increasingly securitizedor dened
as a security concern (see Von Lucke, Wellman, and Diez 2014; Diez, von
Lucke, and Wellmann 2016; Hardt 2017)- it becomes particularly impor-
tant to ask how that relationship is conceived and what types of practices
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might follow from it. The argument for engaging security becomes even
more compelling if we view security as politically consequential: dening
priority and urgency for dealing with issues, and underpinning the political
legitimacy of the key actors in global politics (see Browning and McDonald
It is precisely this sense that security is fundamental to political legiti-
macy, that it serves to dene the core values of communities in need of
preservation or advancement, and that it ultimately designates high poli-
tics, which helps account for the volume of attempts to promote issues such
as climate change as securityissues. For proponents, through such
attempts neglected international issues might be given the attention, fund-
ing, and priority they deserve (see Hartmann 2009; McDonald 2013). In
this context, Copenhagen School theorists and theorists working in the
post-structural tradition are right to suggest we should not assume that
securitization amounts to effective and progressive mobilization. In a range
of settings, not least as invoked by national governments and their mili-
taries, securitization seems to limit political deliberation or enable illiberal
sets of (exceptional) practices (Marzec 2015).
While right to note that we should be wary of the politics of security,
however, the associated call to reject or escape security is built on a
monolithic and universalist logic and meaning of security, not the essence of
security itself (see Nunes 2013). Ultimately, the effects of linking climate
change and security are different in different historical and political con-
texts (see Hayes and Knox-Hayes 2014), while the specic implications of
depicting this issue as a security issue are a product of the way in which that
linkage is made. Ultimately, the politics of security the question of what
security does is a product of the discourse of security invoked and the
context in which it is applied.
Once we recognize security as a site of
contestation between alternative discourses, we can begin to recognize the
multiple different logics, institutions, and practices associated with security
some better, some worse than others. This was illustrated clearly in the
UNSC debates. Here, even those participants welcoming the discussion of
this issue within the UNSC differed over the nature of the threat posed by
climate change and what constituted an appropriate response to it (see Oels
Finally, while sympathetic to the normative position of Cudworth and
Hobden (2013), I would suggest that their concerns about securitization are
directed at a particular (albeit dominant) discourse of environmental or
climate security. If alternative discourses come to dene responses to
For a more detailed elaboration of this conception of the politics of security, see Browning
and McDonald (2013).
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climate change discourses consistent with cosmopolitan principles,
ecosystem resilience and/or the rights and needs of vulnerable beings then
we should expect different and often more progressive practices to follow.
In these senses, it is not simply possible to read contestation over climate
change as contestation over the meaning of security, but politically impor-
tant to recognize the logics and pathologies of different discourses of
climate security, the sources of their power or marginalization, and the
practices they encourage (see Dalby 2009).
Climate security discourses
While environmental issues provided a central example for those concerned
with broadening the agenda of security studies in the 1980s and 1990s, in
particular, climate change did not feature prominently. Early arguments
focussed on the likelihood of conict arising as a result of scarce resources:
as displaced populations came into contact with each other, or as groups
fought over access to dwindling resources. While the work of Thomas
Homer-Dixon (1991, 1999) generally emphasized the complex interplay
between environmental change and social and political dynamics that
might contribute to intrastate war, in particular, others were less sanguine
in suggesting the possibility that contestation over the environmentmight
trigger interstate war. The 1990s, in particular, saw a series of analysts
predict a future spate of water wars. For these analysts, drawing either
implicitly or explicitly on realist thought (see Stucki 2005), transboundary
water resources could become a site of conict as states looked to manip-
ulate these resources for their own ends, particularly in the arid and poli-
tically volatile Middle East (see Bulloch and Darwish 1993; Gleick 1993).
This latter example of possible environmental conict over transbound-
ary water resources is problematic for a range of reasons. On methodo-
logical and indeed empirical grounds this link has been consistently and
convincingly challenged (e.g. Wolff 1998; Allan 2002) while the (realist)
assumptions frequently underpinning these analyses are all too often
unacknowledged. And while a high-prole example for environmental
security, the example of water warsis striking for the fact that the role of
environmental change itself has largely been marginal to this literature. This
relates to a broader problem with environmentsecurity research identied
by authors such as Simon Dalby (2009), Jon Barnett (2000), Hartmann
(2009), Harrington and Shearing (2017), and Cudworth and Hobden
(2011): the tendency to dene the environmentin such a way as to
separate it from humanity and the conditions of human existence.
It was not until the 2000s, and in particular, the mid-2000s, that the
climate changesecurity relationship began to dominate accounts of the
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relationship between the environment and security, reecting the place of
climate change in considerations of environmental change more broadly.
Building on an upsurge of global concern regarding climate change in this
period (see Oels 2012), analysts rediscoveredthe environmentsecurity
relationship regarding the issue of climate change. In turn, analysis of this
connection found its way on to various national and international political
Some interventions, arguably those advanced by the most consequential
security actors, focussed on the idea of climate change as a threat to
national security. Here, analysts and practitioners explored the ways in
which climate change might pose a threat to the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of the nation-state. Think-tanks attempting to address the con-
cerns of policy-makers were particularly active in examining this possible
relationship, with prominent American think-tanks such as the CNA, the
Council on Foreign Relations and the Centre for a New American Century
all publishing studies on the ways in which climate change might act as a
threat multiplier, complicating US national strategic considerations (see
Busby 2007; CNA 2007; Burke and Parthemore 2008, respectively). And
examinations of the national security implications of climate change were
taken up by Governments, with a range of defence departments incor-
poratingconsiderations of climate change into their national security
planning and documents. These included the United States, United
Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Finland, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh,
New Zealand, and many others (see American Security Project 2014). Here,
state governments and militaries are seen as key agents for the provision of
climate security (see Brzoska 2008; Scott 2015).
A related discourse explored threats that climate change posed to inter-
national security and stability. Most recently, a range of analysts has
claimed that conict in Syria and the conditions for the rise of Daesh itself
were in part created by dynamics of climate change (Gleick 2014; Strozier
and Berkell 2014; Baker 2015).
The notion that climate change potentially
posed a threat to regional and international stability was parti-
cularly prominent in United Nations interventions on the climate change
security relationship. The United Nations Environment Programme and
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both linked earlier civil conict
in Darfur to climate change, suggesting in the process the likelihood
that climate change posed a potentially broader threat to regional and
international stability (Moon 2007; UNEP 2007). This was taken up in
UNSC discussions of the international security implications of climate
On this issue, see Selby et al. (2017), along with subsequent responses and rejoinder in the
journal Political Geography.
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change in 2007 and 2011, with subsequent Arria Formula meetings of the
UNSC also exploring this issue in 2013, 2015, and 2017 (see Scott 2015).
An International Alert publication (Smith and Vivekananda 2007) focussed
on threats to international stability associated with climate change, noting
some 40 states at risk of climate-induced conict. While the emphasis in
these interventions remained largely violent conict, the referent object was
dened ultimately as an international society, with conict threatening
the norms and rules of that society and the capacity of its institutions to
function effectively. Agency here was dened in terms of international
cooperation to act to reduce emissions or to manage responses to climate-
induced conicts. A Brookings Institute report noted that risks to interna-
tional peace and security associated with climate change required
well-conceived actions within the UN system(Purvis and Busby 2004, 72).
Other framings of the climate changesecurity relationship dened
climate change as a human security threat. Here, the emphasis was less on
the preservation of the status quo or threat of climate change in terms of
triggering violent conict, and more on the rights and needs of individuals
whose well-being would be fundamentally undermined by manifestations
of climate change. This was evident in the way some state aid agencies
approached this link, such as DFID in the United Kingdom (e.g. Harris
2012). Human security was also explicitly endorsed in the way UNDP
(2008) and UN General Assembly (2009) reports conceptualized the
climatesecurity relationship. Most recently, the IPCC included a chapter
on Human Security in its Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability 5th
Assessment Report of 2014. And under the auspices of the Global
Environmental Change and Human Security project, funded by the
Norwegian government, a range of analysts attempted to make a case for
framing climate change as a human security threat. Here, human security
was dened in terms of the capacity to end, mitigate, or adapt to threats to
human, environmental or social rights,toexercise these options, and
actively participate in pursuing these options(Barnett et al. 2010, 18).
While people were returned to the centre of analysis as the key referent
object of security, the agency was dened in broad terms, emphasizing the
potential capacity of states, institutions, sub-state groups, and global civil
society forces as providers of climate security (see also OBrien 2006).
The differences across these discourses of climate security (from the
national to the international to human security discourses) are striking.
Clearly, they conceive of the nature of the threat posed and the question of
whose security is threatened in varied ways. But in political and normative
terms, differences between these discourses are signicant for the very dif-
ferent responses to climate change they encourage. While human security
discourses encourage mitigation of climate change through the reduction of
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greenhouse gas emissions, national security discourses tend to orient
towards adaptation in response to manifestations of climate change. In
exploring national security implications of climate change, for example,
Joshua Busby argued, adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies
should be the priority response for climate security concerns(2008, 500).
And in a Pentagon-commissioned report on the national security implica-
tions of an abrupt climate scenario for the United States, Schwartz and
Randall (2003) suggested that some relatively self-sufcient states might
focus their attention on constructing more effective national barriers to
keep out populations displaced as a result of manifestations of climate
change (whether rising sea levels or extreme weather phenomena).
The problems with such a response to climate change are immediately
clear. A global problem is approached in terms of its implications for
nation-states; a problem requiring global responses is dened in terms of the
responsive capacities of individual states; and the problem of climate
change itself is not addressed at all, only its manifestations. This leaves
those without the equivalent adaptive capacity to respond to climate threats
(impoverished populations, future generations, and other living beings)
wholly exposed to these effects, and even represented as a potential threat to
the nation-state. Indeed some have suggested that core national values of
political communities (the right to high standards of living and continued
economic growth) are threatened by mitigation strategies (e.g. Schaefer
et al. 1997). The focus on the maintenance of international stability in
international security discourses regarding climate change at least
acknowledges climate change itself as a problem in need of a response. But
the primary commitment to preserving existing international systems and
institutions is problematic given the ways in which contemporary political
and economic institutions are implicated in (and even drive) processes of
global climate change.
Finally, while the embrace or implementation of a human security dis-
course confronts relatively predictable political/ practical impediments, it
also has signicant normative limitations in the context of climate change.
Such an approach to climate change draws our attention to vulnerable
people and to the need to focus our attention on mitigation strategies, but it
fails to address obligations to future generations or other living beings. Of
course for some, drawing ethical boundaries at currently living human
populations is inherently partial and limited (see Eckersley 1992; Mitchell
2014). But it is particularly problematic in the context of the Anthropocene
and the changing nature of the relationship between humanity and eco-
systems, to be discussed. There is also a tendency here to default to key
existing institutions as agents of climate security on pragmatic grounds, as
witnessed in the adoptionof human security by a range of states and
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international organizations (see Booth 2007, 32326). The danger here is
that a human security discourse will be dened and limited by those actors
with an interest in their institutional survival, even with an interest in the
continued functioning of a global fossil fuel economy.
The contours and pathologies of various discourses of climate security
are represented in Table 1. This is, of course, necessarily a simplied
account, one that downplays some of the overlaps between and debates
within these discourses. And of course, no single discourse ever completely
captures the ways in which particular political communities approach the
climate changesecurity relationship. The key points to note, however, are
that there are multiple different ways of conceiving the climate change
security relations in both theory and practice, with different implications in
terms of the practices they encourage. Some prioritize the maintenance of
unsustainable lifestyles at the extreme; others might encourage adaptation
to climate change that fails to address the problem itself or the rights of
vulnerable others. For that reason, we should not simply endorse the
securitization of climate change, even if it means mobilization or political
attention (see also Dalby 2015b; Floyd 2015). But neither should we
abandon security altogether. Security is increasingly tied to climate change
in practice, of course, making engagement with the pathologies and con-
tours of these (different) linkages all the more important. If claims of
security and threat serve to dene priority, urgency, and even political
legitimacy, the concept is also too politically signicant, as Ken Booth
(1991, 1999) has argued, to be left to strategists. And if security is viewed as
a site of contestation between different actors articulating different ideas of
Table 1. Climate Security Discourses (adapted from McDonald 2013, 49).
Discourse Referent Threat Agent Response
Nation-state Conict, sovereignty,
economic interests
State Adaptation
People Life and livelihood, core
values, and practices
States, NGOs, the
Conict, global stability International
Mitigation and
Ecosystems Challenges to
equilibrium associated
with contemporary
political, social, and
economic structures
People: changing
of societal
patterns and
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who we are, what we value and how (and from what) those values are to
be protected or advanced (see McDonald 2012), we need to advance
credible alternatives that can serve to provide the lens through which
the climate changesecurity relationship is viewed, and serve in turn to
guide effective responses to threats as fundamental and existential as global
climate change. This is the task of the remainder of this paper.
Ecological security and climate change
In work exploring the links between climate change and security, there is a
clear tendency for advocates to attempt to employ the language of security
to mobilize political action on climate change. This has often involved
dening this relationship in such a way as to speak to the immediate
concerns of the state and the key institutions of international politics
to encourage effective environmental action. Indeed as Hartmann (2009)
has illustrated, many of those making the link between the environment and
security are representatives of environmental organizations or think-tanks
(Mathews 1989; Myers 1989; Renner 1996). The tendency to invoke the
powerful and often resonant language of national securityto justify pro-
gressive climate practices was even apparent in President Obamas argu-
ment that the United States should invest in renewable energy to reduce its
energy reliance on undemocratic regimes in the Middle East (see Hayes and
Knox-Hayes 2014; Dalby 2015b).
But even with the best intentions, harnessing the mobilizing potential of
security is fraught with danger. This is illustrated by Obamasenergy
securityjustication for the shift towards renewable energy. While this
logic might justify a movement away from fossil fuel consumption, it could
also be used to justify the expansion of coal seam gas fracking or domestic
oil exploration in the Alaskan wilderness, for example. Neither does such
a justication engage with the necessity of reducing consumption, recognize
the role of contemporary energy use in creating climate change or
acknowledge the more pressing vulnerabilities experienced by impover-
ished populations, future generations, or other living beings. In short,
it is not enough to link climate change and security in the hope that
progressive practices will follow from the invocation of security and threat.
If the rst principlesof these discourses their ethical foundations are
insufciently oriented towards the rights and needs of the most vulnerable,
we cannot expect the practices they encourage to consistently serve
progressive ends. While dening climate change as a threat to national
security may generate attention from the national security establishment,
it may encourage practices inconsistent with addressing the problem
itself. In this context, I make a case for an ecological security discourse,
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oriented towards ecosystem resilience and with it the rights and needs of the
most vulnerable from the threat posed by climate change. Before outlining
the possibilities for this discourse constituting the lens through which
political communities view the relationship between climate change and
security, and even security more broadly, I will outline the key contours of
this discourse.
The environment and the Anthropocene
At an immediate level, the rst distinguishing feature of this climate security
discourse concerns the focus on ecosystems rather than the environment.
The latter tends to suggest a natural world distinct and distinguishable from
the human world (see Morton 2007; Cudworth and Hobden 2011),
encouraging us to view the environmentas a resource to be exploited or
even as a source of threat (e.g. Kaplan 1994).
While frequently normatively problematic this is also analytically mis-
leading given the arrival of the new geological age of the Anthropocene.
In the words of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program authors
(Steffan et al. 2004, 1) this refers to a situation in which:
human activities are now so pervasive and profound in their consequences
that they affect the Earth at a global scale in complex, interactive and
accelerating ways; humans now have the capacity to alter the Earth Sys-
tem in ways that threaten the very processes and components, both biotic
and abiotic, upon which humans depend.
The notion of the Anthropocene, introduced to the mainstream debate
by Paul Crutzen in 2000, fundamentally challenges still-dominant ideas
of an external environment central to modernity (see Steffan, Crutzen,
and McNeill 2007; Sample 2014). In an era in which humanity is so
implicated in the conditions and dynamics of environmental change,
the idea of a separation between humanity and nature becomes difcult
if not impossible to sustain. Indeed for some, the Anthropocene
changes the nature of what it means to be human (see, e.g. Yusoff 2013;
Clark 2014).
Yet, if the geological reality of the Anthropocene questions the separation
between humans and nature so central to a range of accounts of the
environmentand certainly environmental security, it also challenges the
normative commitment to ecosystem balance or equilibrium in some early
In August 2016 the Working Group on the Anthropocene voted in favour of formally
adopting the term to designate the contemporary epoch, to be presented to the International
Geological Congress.
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accounts of ecological security. In perhaps the most explicit direct discussion
of ecological security, Dennis Pirages (2005, 4) describes it as resting on:
Preserving the following four interrelated dynamic equilibriums:
1) Between human populations living at higher consumptions levels and
the ability of nature to provide resources and services;
2) Between human populations and pathogenic microorganisms;
3) Between human populations and those of other plant and animal species;
4) Among human populations.
Pirages (2005, 4) argues that imbalance in any of these equilibriums can
be viewed as insecurity.
Yet, notions of balanceor equilibriasit uneasily with the contemporary
realities of environmental change (see Fagan 2017). They imply the possibility
of a return to a previous (geological) era, while the focus on preservation
means downplaying the enormity of change and the role of human popula-
tions in creating that change. As a range of analysts have suggested, by
necessity the future of life on Earth, andwithit,theroleofecosystemsthem-
selves, may look markedly different from the past (Steffan, Crutzen, and
McNeill 2007; Schlosberg 2013; Dalby 2015a). This suggests the need to
think in different ways about what ecosystems can and should do, and what
capacities there are to full those functions traditionally associated with them.
From balance to resilience
In this context, here I suggest that ecological security should be oriented less
towards the preservation of balance and more towards ecosystem resilience.
This refers to the capacity of ecosystems to function to sustain life across time
and space, retain their organizational structure following perturbation
(Barnett 2001, 110) and to absorb change while retaining essential function
(Adger, Brown, and Waters 2011, 696). Such a conceptualization retains a
focus on complex inter-relationships between ecosystems and humans, but
more easily accommodates dynamics of ongoing environmental change. With
some degree (or more accurately, degrees) of climate change now locked in
(see Christoff 2013; IPCC 2014), it is clearly necessary to develop an under-
standing of climate security that focusses on the mitigation of the problem
itself while responding to the inevitable effects of climate change and our
(continued) role in contributing to it.
The notion of resilience is helpful in this sense, though of course not
without its dangers and limitations. David Schlosberg (2013, 13) notes
that a focus on resilience can suggest a need to simply adapt to, rather
than understand and resistclimate change, in the process undermining
the continued urgent need for climate mitigation. And while resilience
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has become a ubiquitous concept across a range of academic elds (from
community resilience to the resilience of vulnerable populations, infra-
structure, and trade, for example), its growth and its political embrace have
raised suspicions that the concept constitutes a new mechanism or
rationality of neoliberal governance (see Zebrowski 2013; Evans and Reid
2014; Cavelty, Kaufmann, and Kristensen 2015). As Kevin Grove has
argued, the effect of resilience initiatives is often to defend and strengthen
the political economic status quo against uncertainty and surprise
(2013, 146).
Yet, if the growing scale and transnational nature of threats in global risk
society has transformed notions of resilience into a master narrativeof con-
temporary security (Watts 2013, 86; see also Grove 2013; Aradau 2014), the
realities of dynamics of environmental change mean we need to think of eco-
logical security in a manner that enables us to recognize and respond to a
changed and changing world. In the context of ecosystem resilience and
ecological security, resilience should not imply acceptance of and adaptation
to change. It must entail a focus on proactive and radical measures to minimize
the scale and severity of change in order to help ensure ecosystems continue to
function (see Corry 2014; Bourbeau 2015).
Whose security?
There are therefore compelling pragmatic reasons to focus our attention on
the possibilities for the resilience of dynamic, complex, and inter-related
ecosystems that will experience perturbation and change. But in turn, there
are compelling normative reasons to focus our attention on ecosystems in
the context of climate change relative to states, international society or
human societies. While discourses of national and human security are
fundamentally different in terms of their ethical assumptions and implica-
tions, for example, the tendency to endorse a focus on human communities
and/or the institutions that represent them entails inadequate attention to
the rights and needs of other living beings or future generations. They also
inadequately tie us to the conditions of our own existence. The focus here is
therefore on ecosystems themselves, a more ethically defensible referent
object in the context of climate change even if one that throws up a series of
complex moral and practical problems.
The normative commitment to this focus on ecosystems draws on a
holistic approach to ethics (see Pojman 2005; Nolt 2011, Ch. 2228). It
suggests the need to challenge the anthropocentrism of existing accounts of
environmental ethics and security, and to develop an approach that allows
us to recognize the complex relationships between species (see Eckersley
1992). This focus on the dynamic inter-relationship between beings, while
clearly informed by ecological thought, also attempts to move beyond
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traditional binaries of anthropocentrism vs. ecocentrism, or the welfare of
individual beings contrasted with the preservation of ecological wholes, for
example (see Eckersley 2005; McShane 2014). Debates about the choice
between humans and the environment, intrinsic or instrumental value of
beings or the needs of ecological systems and the value of individual beings
have largely failed to precipitate a wholesale shift in the ways in which we
comprehend or approach environmental issues, and has allowed ecological
debate to be cut-off from broader ethical and philosophical debate. In a
manner consistent with so-called second wavegreen political theorists (see
Eckersley 2005, 365), the focus here is on recognition of interdependence in
a manner that addresses the needs of both vulnerable human populations and
other species (see Burke, Lee-Koo, and McDonald 2016). The arrival of the
Anthropocene builds on this recognition, of course, underscoring the dynamic
inter-relationship between humans and the ecosystems in which they live.
Within such an approach, the emphasis on the resilience of ecosystems is
viewed as the best means to ensure not only the long-term survival of life
but to ensure appropriate ethical consideration for vulnerable beings. This
clearly applies to other living beings and future generations (see Page 2006),
but applies in varying degrees to currently living human populations with
limited capacity or resources to inuence decision-making on their behalf or
to respond to large-scale manifestations of climate change.
Of course, such a position can be (and has been) criticized on both moral
and pragmatic grounds. Central among these is the inability to truly know
the perspectives of those on behalf of whom we claim to act; the inability to
escape our own humanity and therefore anthropocentrism (see Floyd 2013;
Fagan 2017); and the challenges associated with integrating a concern for
future generations, who may in fact not exist if our action or inaction allows
ecosystems to decline signicantly.
Pragmatic objections focus on the fact
that it is excessively morally demanding (see Nolt 2011), or that it lacks the
political constituency to genuinely advance such a position. Indeed this is
central to Jon Barnetts (2001) rejection of ecological security, a point I will
return to later. And a holistic-level focus does not give us a ready-made
set of resources for prioritizing or even potentially adjudicating between
different harms experienced between or within species.
Many of these objections can be applied to any group or institution: not
all people are equally capable of contributing to conversations about
national- or even local- security, and claims to speak on behalf of other
For an introduction to the wide range of literature in these debates, see, for example,
Eckersley (1992), Dobson (1990). For an introduction to how such debates play out in the
context of climate change, see, for example, Garvey (2008, 4955).
Clare Palmer (2011) refers to this as the non-identity problem.
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members of a broader society are often little more than claims. Other
objections focus on the fact that any non-anthropocentric or ecological
perspective is difcult given the acute complexity of ecosystems and their
dynamic inter-relationships. Assessing threats and responses in such a
perspective is hard, assessing and prioritizing harms and harm-reduction
strategies over time as well as across and between species is clearly difcult,
and it would certainly be easier to continue to suggest practices and
responses consistent with the interests and perspectives of key actors in the
international political system. But our contemporary politics of climate
security are manifestly failing to reverse the threat of climate change,
and the challenges of adopting a markedly different perspective must surely
pale into insignicance relative to the structural and existential harm
associated with business as usualpractice (see Burke, Lee-Koo, and
McDonald 2016).
For all its challenges, then, the referent objects of security in this eco-
logical security discourse are ecosystems themselves, with a focus on their
long-term resilience that would enable them to function despite pertur-
bation or change. Focussing attention on long-term ecosystem resilience in
this way is certainly complicated, but it allows us to recognize the rights and
needs of a wider array of actors in space and in time, and crucially the inter-
relationships between those actors. Such a change requires us to challenge
the anthropocentrism that underpins dominant discourses of security and
indeed international relations, as post-humanist accounts of politics have
recently suggested (see, e.g. Cudworth and Hobden 2011, 2013; Mitchell
2014; Eroukhmanoff and Harker 2017). Here, genuine and sustainable
processes for arresting environmental change are built upon an ecological
sensibility that recognizes humanitys place within ecosystems and the
imperative of preserving and strengthening ecosystem function over time
(see also Dryzek 1997; Eckersley 2005; Dalby 2009). Processes and prac-
tices in this direction necessarily orient towards the rights and needs of
those most vulnerable to even minor disruptions in ecosystem function
associated with climate change (impoverished populations, other living
beings, future generations), who are also least able to articulate their needs
and concerns given their communicative capacity and contemporary dis-
tributions of political and economic power. As such, the rights and needs of
these vulnerable populations are ultimately prioritized through the atten-
tion to ecosystem resilience, rather than these groups constituting a referent
object of climate security themselves.
In orienting towards ecosystem resilience, the ecological security dis-
course, therefore, extends the range of threats to security and entails
recognition of the moral obligation to other living beings and future
generations via the ecosystems upon which they rely or will rely upon.
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But this still raises difcult questions with regards the means through which
ecosystem resilience might be advanced.
Means of security? From precaution to geoengineering
The question of how to go about advancing or realizing ecological security is
a difcult question for several reasons. First, the scale of complexity, inter-
relationships, and uncertainty around questions of ecology is profound. In
this sense, anticipating the effects of our actions is acutely difcult, especially
if those actions involve the attempt to manipulate ecosystems to facilitate
their functioning (see Clark 2014). Second, attempting to build or strengthen
ecosystem resilience will inevitably involve difcult choices about prioritiz-
ing different sets of responses, which may, in turn, have different implica-
tions across different human communities, between different human
communities and non-human ones, and over time.
Working to ensure ecosystemsresilience will primarily involve mini-
mizing and ideally eradicating those practices that create or worsen the
problem of climate change itself. In this sense, traditional mitigation
strategies essentially, producing less greenhouse gas are central and
should be prioritized. Yet, in the context of the Anthropocene and the
associated inevitability of climate change, the imperatives of ecosystem
resilience may necessitate radical forms of intervention to ensure ecosystem
functions continue. As such, practices founded upon relatively traditional
environmental principles might need to sit alongside radical changes.
Clearly, a discourse of ecological security focusses our attention on the
long-term resilience of the earths ecosystems. The dynamic, inter-related,
and complex nature of these ecosystems so clearly illustrated in the
context of global climate change demand political approaches that accept
some degree of uncertainty and non-linearity while endorsing the impera-
tive to exercise caution in our exploitation of the natural environment.
While challenging in many senses, both analytically and (in particular)
politically, a broad outline of this approach can be found in the core
elements of the so-called precautionary principleendorsed as part of the
Rio Declaration at the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development in 1992:
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be
widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are
threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientic uncertainty
shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to
prevent environmental degradation.
Concessions to relative capacitiesand cost-effectivemeasures
were clearly incorporated in response to the concerns of developing and
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developed states, respectively, in the above formulation. But even here
the precautionary principle does recognize the complexity of ecosystems,
the imperative of exercising caution in the exploitation of natural resources,
and some degree of recognition of obligation to other living beings
(see also Cudworth and Hobden 2013, 659).
In the specic context of climate change, approaching this issue in terms
of a concern with ecosystem resilience compels us to move towards effective
solutions to the problem of climate change, in which the precautionary
principle encourages the rapid movement towards low or no-carbon
economies. We know that concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased
signicantly from the pre-industrial era; that this increase will lead to a rise
in sea levels, an increase in frequency and intensity of severe weather events,
and changes in rainfall patterns; and that these changes will have devas-
tating social, health and economic consequences, especially for those
populations in the developing world least able to fund disaster-relief, new
healthcare programs or provide nancial support for those whose liveli-
hoods have been affected(Burke, Lee-Koo, and McDonald 2014, 116). But
we cannot say with certainty when and where changes will happen, whether
consequences will be more or less severe than current models suggest, or
even whether current severe weather phenomena are directly attributable to
global climate change. In this context, precaution is indeed needed, and the
international endorsement of this principle through the Rio Declaration
suggests some hope for the embrace of principles associated with an
ecological security discourse in global practice.
Yet, in the context of the Anthropocene and the reality of some form of
climate change, climate engineering has increasingly become part of the
discussion about ensuring ecosystem resilience. Geoengineering refers to
attempts to articially change the atmosphere in ways that will counteract
the enhanced warming effects of carbon dioxide and methane(Dalby
2015a). Geoengineering options with regard climate change usually focus
on two forms: solar radiation management (e.g. the use of sun-shields or large
mirrors to reect sunlight back into space, thus reducing insolation of the
earths surface) and measures to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (e.g.
carbon capture and storage) (Dalby). Both would constitute interventions on
a potentially unprecedented scale and cost, and there are signicant uncer-
tainties around the feasibility and effects of any such projects.
Geoengineering raises acutely difcult questions for advocates of strong
action on climate change informed by an ethical commitment to vulnerable
populations. Geoengineering might entail the investment of time and energy
into a search for a climate silver bullet, rather than mitigation practices
focussing on rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed some
political advocates of geoengineering are also proponents of the continued
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and expanded use of fossil fuels.
In this sense, some fear that talk of
geoengineering might be a ruse to prevent us making the necessary but dif-
cult decisions associated with transitioning to low or no-carbon economies
(see Corner and Pidgeon 2014; Dalby 2015a). The scale and uncertainty
of larger-scale geoengineering is not just a practical question, but a moral
one. The opportunity costs involved in investing signicant resources into
these types of projects is clear, but they may also have unintended con-
sequences. Given the complexity of ecosystem functioning and inter-
relationships between ecosystems, it is acutely difcult to assess how such
projects might affect those functions, and whether they might have unin-
tended consequences (see Clark 2014, 34). As Simon Dalby (2015a) notes,
the use of ocean seeding off the west coast of Canada in 2012
signicant concerns about the effects this practice would have on other
marine life.
In this context suspicion of geoengineering is understandable, and many
would suggest it should have no place in a discussion of an appropriate ethical
response to climate change (Gardiner 2010; Hamilton 2013). But the reality of
climate change means it will increasingly need to form part of a conversation
about how to ensure or build ecosystem resilience, even if necessarily a short-
term or stop-gap set of measures (Dalby 2013, 174). In this sense, the embrace
of an ecological security discourse would encourage an openness to such
practices depending on the severity of climate change effects on ecosystem
function and the extent to which we can be condent such measures would
work effectively to build resilience (see also Corry 2017).
And the focus on
protecting vulnerable beings from the effects of climate change means we
should continue to prioritize precaution in the rst instance, along with the
development of adaptive capacity for already vulnerable populations. An
ecological security discourse would emphasize the imperative of transitioning
to low or no-carbon economies (through renewable energy use in particular)
to best avoid dangerous climate change that will almost certainly undermine
the continued functioning of ecosystems.
The former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, advocated the use of carbon capture
and storage. He also removed a carbon pricing mechanism that had served to drive down
Australian emissions, and opposed stronger commitments on Australian emissions reduction.
As Dalby notes, ocean seeding or fertilization attempts to create plankton blooms, pro-
moted on the theory that these will absorb carbon dioxide and when the plankton die, the carbon
that they have absorbed will fall to the ocean oor and be removed from circulation(2015a).
Of course, given uncertainty about ecological effects, geoengineering is potentially at odds
with the precautionary principle. As such, it should remain a practice contemplated only in the
context of maximum possible anticipation of likely effects and extreme climate emergency in
which the combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies are insufcient to ensure ecosys-
tem functionality.
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Conclusion: towards ecological security?
While the relationship between climate change and security has commanded
ever-increasing academic and political attention, the realities of the politics
associated with these linkages have often been obscured or elided. Declara-
tions of climate threat are variously made to reafrm the centrality of state
militaries; to justify budgets for aid agencies; to compel long-term action to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the global economy. And
with these declarations of threat come often radically different ideas about
whose security is at stake, how it might be realized, through what measures
and by what actors. Different discourses of security matter, not just at an
analytical level in making sense of the climatesecurity relationship. At a
practical level, they are signicant in terms of the practices endorsed or dis-
missed and the actors or institutions legitimized or marginalized.
The answer to the potential dangers of endorsing perverse practices or
unhelpful actors is not to escape security, however. If security is politically
signicant underpinning the legitimacy of key actors and dening the
values of political communities in need of protection or advancement
(McDonald 2012) then there is too much at stake in allowing traditional
security discourses associated with the threat and use of forceto dominate
the way we think about security, regarding climate change or in general.
Rather, if security is understood as a site of contestation between different
actors articulating alternative security discourses, we should ask which
associations of climate change and security are most progressive in terms of
their ethical defensibility and in particular the nature of the practices that
they encourage. I have made a case here for an ecological security discourse,
oriented towards ecosystem resilience and the (associated) rights and needs
of the most vulnerable across space, time, and species.
Key challenges remain, of course, regarding how to interpret threats in
the context of acutely complex and inter-related ecosystems, along with
how to prioritize different responses to those threats and distribute
responsibility or agency in dealing with them. But such dilemmas or dif-
culties are hardly novel. Unless working with a particularly limited and
atavistic understanding of security tied to the nation-state (and in some
cases even then), proponents of particular security discourses must confront
precisely the challenges of dening threats, prioritizing responses and con-
ceptualizing responsibility for addressing them.
It has, however, been
beyond the scope of this paper to systematically engage what is perhaps the
key challenge for the ecological security discourse advanced here: the
National defence acquisition strategies, for example, involve inherently uncertain long-
term assessments of future axes of conict or deployment requirements.
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question of how it might nd political purchase and come to genuinely
inform the way political communities approach the climate changesecurity
relationship, even the way security itself is understood and the values of the
community in need of being protected and advanced.
The ecological security discourse outlined here may be the most ethically
defensible approach to climate change in terms of its ethical foundations
and implications in practice, but it is also the most marginal to academic
debate and contemporary political practice. It has a limited constituency
among the most powerful actors in international politics, and the frame-
works and practices it compels are foreign and challenging to almost all
forms of contemporary political and economic practice. This point is at the
heart of Jon Barnetts (2001) rejection of an ecological security discourse
as ethically worthy but insufciently engaged with the politics of security.
For Barnett (2001, 121), ecological security is too foreign to policy-makers,
leaving it a sympathetic bystander on the sidelines of the substantive con-
testover the climate changesecurity relationship. It is perhaps signicant
that in more recent work, Barnett has been a key advocate for approaching
climate change through the lens of human security (e.g. Barnett and Adger
2007; Barnett et al. 2010).
There is little doubt this is a key challenge for proponents of this discourse.
But if we are convinced that such a perspective should underpin how we
understand and approach the relationship between security and climate
change, the challenge is one of identifying possibilities for its articulation,
embrace, and institutionalization. Global civil society mobilization, move-
ments towards stronger international political action on climate change
(including through the 2015 Paris Agreement), and even the endorsement of
core principles through international environmental regimes (the precau-
tionary principle and common but differentiated responsibility, for example)
all suggest themselves as at least movements in the direction of an ecological
security discourse ata practical level.The increasing salience ofconcepts such
as the Anthropocene in academic and practical debates about climate change
also creates an opportunity to reconsider and reect upon the nature of our
(inter) relationships with the natural world in a manner more consistent with
an ecological security discourse. And of course, if such a discourse of security
nds increasing purchase and resonance in the way we view an issue such as
climate change, there is no reason that it cannot also compel fundamental
reassessment of the limits of national securitymore broadly (see Trombetta
2008; Oels 2012; Burke, Lee-Koo, and McDonald 2014).
Existing accounts of security and its relationship to climate change
noted earlier (whether national, international, or human) uniformly lack
engagement with the rights and needs of future generations and other living
beings and separate humanity from nature. Some of these discourses clearly
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encourage better sets of practices than others. The human security
discourse, for example, encourages mitigation action to address the
problem itself and recognizes the importance of action to redress harms
suffered by vulnerable populations. But the scale of the climate threat
necessitates a change in the way we view security: away from self-contained
groups of particular species at particular times and towards a holistic
approach that encourages us to act urgently to sustain the conditions of life
on the planet (Harrington and Shearing 2017).
More than 25 years ago, Robyn Eckersley argued that it is only in those
political communities in which an ecocentric sensibility is widely shared
that there will be a general consensus in favour of the kinds of far-reaching,
substantive reforms that will protect biological diversity and life-support
systems(1992, 185). As applied to this paper and the project of promoting
an ecological security discourse, it might be argued that the corresponding
political challenge is one of instilling this sensibility in existing political
communities, such that values most in need of being protected or advanced
(security) are associated with the imperative of ensuring the resilience of
ecosystems. Debates about the relationship between climate change and
security should not be limited to discussions about the circumstances in
which climate change might trigger armed conict, especially given the
political signicance of securityas the raison detre of key institutions of
global politics. Rather, debates about the meaning and practice of security
can and should be another site in which the imperative of action oriented
towards the long-term survival of life on the planet is advanced.
This paper has evolved as part of a larger research project over a number
of years, and the author indebted to the research assistance, insights,
criticisms, and suggestions of a range of scholars across a range of
institutions. For his original research assistance, the author is indebted to
John de Bhal at the University of Oxford. The author presented an earlier
version of this paper at the Environmental Politics stream in the Australian
Political Studies Association conference in Perth in 2013, and the author is
grateful for feedback received there. The author also beneted from
feedback received through research seminar presentations on variations of
this paper since: at the Universities of Warwick, Birmingham, St Andrews,
and Glasgow in the United Kingdom; UQ and ANU in Australia; and
elsewhere in Europe at the University of Copenhagen, University of Hamburg,
University of Lausanne and Sciences Po, Paris. Finally, the author is particularly
grateful to the reviewers and editorial team of International Theory for
their suggestions and insights, which have strengthened the paper. All errors,
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... A related second concern is that policy actors select these environmental security framings according to their institutional interests, which can be at odds with ambitious climate policy (Floyd, 2015;McDonald, 2021, p. 53). In particular, defense administrations and military staffs are under scrutiny as proponentsand benefactorsof conceptualizations that shape environmental change as national security issue (Estève, 2020;McDonald, 2018;von Lucke et al., 2014). Such conceptualizations have long been criticized as counterproductive and potentially reducing climate security efforts to reactive, ad hoc responses to disaster, displacement, and conflict (Barnett, 2003;Deudney, 1990). ...
... The ideas of compound or amplifying effects were already discussed among Western countries prior to 2008 (NSSD Norway, 2004, p. 28;NSSD Germany, 2006, p. 19) but also by Burkina Faso, which dedicated a whole page of its NSSD to climate impacts in 2004 (NSSD Burkina Faso, 2004, p. 61). This was before the EU (Floyd, 2015) and several think tanks elevated the issue (Brzoska, 2009;McDonald, 2018). ...
... In other words, security strategies published after 2007 express concerns about reactions of societal actors towards climate change almost as often as they mention insecurities stemming directly from climate change. This is, arguably, more problematic than raising concerns over direct climate impacts, because drawing attention to scientifically contested second-order effects conceals the direct climate impacts that are their underlying causes (Daoudy et al., 2022;McDonald, 2018). Notably, the coverage of the two most contentious indirect impacts from climate and other environmental change, migration and violent conflicts, varied across regions ( Fig. 4 and annex A11). ...
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The right framing of climate and other environmental change is crucial to guide policy responses towards preventing human suffering, displacement, and violent conflict. This study analyzes how ministries of defense and other security policy actors from 93 countries framed climate and other environmental change in national security strategy documents (NSSD) published between 2000 and 2020. An inductive content analysis reveals three shortcomings in the representations of environmental and climate change in these documents: First, representations of direct impacts are overly dominated by a focus on disasters. Second, references to indirect climate impacts do not reflect the current state of research. Third, a share of references to climate and other environmental change represents the planetary dimension of change in problematic ways. Additionally, the global scope of the analysis reveals regional differences in climate securitization: Framings of climate migration were mostly raised by potential destination countries, which often have high historical emissions, fueling concerns of climate injustice. By contrast, questionable statements on environmental and climate conflicts were published in the Global North and South alike. All in all, this suggests that the securitization of environmental and climate change are global phenomena. They do, however, not adequately reflect the planetary uncertainties of the Anthropocene.
... Furthermore, normative arguments are being advanced, with ecosystems and the natural world as significant elements. These arguments suggest shifting the focus of governance from state security to ecosystem security ( McDonald 2018( McDonald , 2021, moving beyond the natureculture governance binary in IR ( Fagan 2017 ; Simangan 2020 ), and taking seriously the materiality of the planet in our scholarship on and practices of governance ( Peters, Steinberg, and Stratford 2018 ). The regional level is frequently seen by political actors as a way of both addressing regional environmental challenges and achieving progress on planetary issues (for a thorough discussion, see Balsiger and Prys 2016 ). ...
... However, the response to this call for increased conversation between politics and the rapidly changing natural world has come at a slower and more modest rate in the IR field than in other social science disciplines ( Green and Hale 2017 ; Simangan 2020 on IR as a discipline; see Peters, Steinberg, and Stratford [2018 ] for how materiality is approached in political geography). As researchers have sought to integrate the reality of human-induced global change into the IR discipline, we can see a progressive shift in focus toward having the nonhuman world as the starting point of analysis, from including nonhumans in our planetary politics ( Fagan 2017 ; Dalby 2020 ) to envisioning a new form of governance thinking and reflexivity ( Pickering 2018 ) and refocusing the object of security to ecological security, specifically in securing ecosystem resilience ( Fagan 2017 ;McDonald 2018McDonald , 2021 ; see also Lövbrand, Mobjörk, and Söder 2020 for a recent overview). These are important research agendas for thinking anew about governance in ways that supersede the nature-culture binary, bringing in new dimensions for the scope and speed of planetary change. ...
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This article argues that, to grasp how global ordering will be impacted by planetary-level changes, we need to systematically attend to the question of the extent to which and how ecosystems are being governed. Our inquiry builds upon—but extends beyond—the environmental governance measures that have garnered the most scholarly attention so far. The dataset departs from the current literature on regional environmental governance by taking ecosystems themselves as the unit of analysis and then exploring whether and how they are governed, rather than taking a starting point in environmental institutions and treaties. The ecosystems researched—large-scale marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems—have been previously identified by a globe-spanning, natural science inquiry. Our findings highlight the uneven extent of ecosystem governance—both the general geographic extent and certain “types” of ecosystems seemingly lending themselves more easily to ecosystem-based cooperation. Furthermore, our data highlight that there is a wider range of governance practices anchored in ecosystems than the typical focus on environmental institutions reveals. Of particular significance is the tendency by political actors to establish multi-issue governance anchored in the ecosystems themselves and covering several different policy fields. We argue that, in light of scholarship on ecosystem-anchored cooperation and given the substantive set of cases of such cooperation identified in the dataset, these forms of ecosystem-anchored cooperation may have particularly significant ordering effects. They merit attention in the international relations scholarship that seeks to account for the diversity of global ordering practices.
... "oriented towards ecosystem resilience and with it the rights and needs of the most vulnerable across time, spaces, and species.". [67] (pp. 173) Burke and Fishel further suggested an ontological foundation for planetary security, asserting: ...
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In the last century, science fiction has become an incredibly powerful tool in depicting alternative social imaginaries, particularly those of the future. Extending beyond their fictious nature is a commentary on the stark realities of modern society. The ‘cyberpunk’ subgenre, for example, offers a dystopian critique on the dangers of technological dependence and hypercapitalism. In studying science fiction, future imaginaries can be developed as utopian goals for governance systems to strive for. In contrast to cyberpunk, the subgenre of ‘solarpunk’ depicts a utopian society where humanity lives locally, sustainably, and in harmony with nature. This paper deconstructs solarpunk media to describe three guiding principles of solarpunk: anarchism, ecology, and justice. As an anarchist community, solarpunk strives for a post-scarcity, post-capitalist society devoid of hierarchy and domination. As an ecological community, solarpunk strives for local, self-sufficient, and sustainable living where both the human and non-human flourish. Finally, as a just community, solarpunk strives to rid society of marginalization and celebrate authenticity. These three principles can be used to guide humanity towards a utopian, solarpunk future.
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İklim değişikliği; hızlı nüfus artışı, kentleşme, sanayileşme ve artan sera gazı salınımları gibi pek çok faktörün bir araya gelmesi sonucu dünyanın en büyük sorunlarından biri haline gelmiştir. Bu durum, çevresel güvenlik kapsamında uluslararası güvenlik açısından tehdit oluşturmaktadır. İklim değişikliği, aynı zamanda insanların doğal yaşam alanlarını terk etmek zorunda kalmalarına da neden olmaktadır. Özellikle küresel iklim değişikliğinin meydana getirdiği etkiler, iklim mülteciliği konusunda endişeleri artırmaktadır. Yükselen deniz seviyeleri, sıcaklıkların artması ve sıklıkla yaşanan doğal afetler, su kaynaklarının azalması ve kirlenmesi, çölleşme gibi çevresel güvenlik sorunları insanların hayatlarını tehlikeye sokarak toplumsal çatışmalara neden olma potansiyeli taşımaktadır. Çalışmada Soğuk Savaş sonrası güvenliğin yaşadığı dönüşüm yeşil teorinin sunduğu perspektif üzerinden çevresel güvenlik kapsamında incelenmiş ve küresel iklim değişikliği ile iklim mülteciliğinin güvenlik sorunu olarak çatışma potansiyeli taşıdığı sonucuna ulaşılmıştır. Bütün bunlar yapılırken yeşil teorinin sunduğu bakış açısıyla çevresel bozulmaların iklim değişikliğini ve iklim göçlerini etkilediği ve bu durumun somut örnekler üzerinden bir güvenlik sorunu olduğu savında bulunulmuştur. Çalışma nitel bir yöntemle oluşturulmuştur.
This paper examines how climate change and environment have been incorporated into Spain’s security documents and policymaking. We have examined forty plus documents issued by Spain’s National Security Department to identify the evolution of the climate and environmental discourse. A keyword filter helped singling out the eleven most environmentally relevant documents, which have been qualitatively analyzed to better understand the context in which environmental language is used. In our work we identify how both common practices of security analysts and policy makers as well as different level policies have been strongly influenced by environmental knowledge, and therefore incorporated new considerations into security policies. Our findings suggest that climate is not the only challenge incorporated into security documents. Other environmental issues such as desertification, access to water, energy transition or loss of biodiversity are also included, which implies that they are part of a broader concept of national security more in line with the new challenges of the XXI century.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), have experienced the debilitating effects of the existential threat of climate change despite their negligible contribution to global greenhouse emissions. These impacts are no longer simply an environmental or economic challenge, but are increasingly discussed as threats to national, human, and ecological security. This chapter explores the different ways climate change manifests itself as a security issue in SVG and the island’s response, especially in light of its election as a non-permanent member of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) for the 2020–2021 term. The study draws on empirical material from a number of government reports, policies, papers, and news articles on SVG from 2007 to 2020 to examine how climate change is framed within the context of climate security and climate justice. The findings show that climate change security issues were less important in the traditional sense in terms of instigating violent conflict and were more important in relation to protecting the rights of vulnerable people and communities. The findings also demonstrate an interplay between ecological and human security issues, encompassing food security, water security, and financial security. In response, the country seeks to reduce these impacts through mitigation and adaptation efforts. However, given its constraints as a SIDS, the study also puts forward a climate justice argument built on the premises that global emitters have a responsibility to honour commitments to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gases significantly and for major donors to uphold and scale up financial commitments to help SIDS respond effectively to climate impacts.KeywordsSt. Vincent and the GrenadinesClimate securityClimate justiceHuman securitySmall Island Developing States
This chapter presents a case study of the climate-security nexus in Indonesia during the administration of President Joko Widodo from 2014 to the present. We drew upon three models of climate-security connections: state security, human security, and ecological security, which underpin the conceptual thinking of this book. Although conceptually distinguishable, in practice all of them are interrelated. We explore the threat perceptions and policy measures of the state’s leading climate sectors and look at how non-state actors respond to the government’s approaches. Two methodological steps were applied in this study. First, we collected primary and secondary information relevant to climate threat and policy in Indonesia under Widodo. One of the controversial issues discussed is the new capital city construction project. We referred to the climate security concepts mentioned above to unpack the dominant climate security discourses. Second, we examined how the domestic climate change priorities extended to the view articulated by Indonesia in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The conclusion is that the Widodo government makes human security the domestic climate priority, but still accommodates ecological protection in some areas of governance. At the international level, however, we can see that climate change’s human and environmental security aspects are relatively balanced and equal, suggesting parallel features of Indonesia’s global activism for climate agendas.KeywordsClimate changeHuman securityIndonesiaCapital city move projectUnited Nations Security Council
This chapter examines how the United Kingdom (UK) has framed the issue of climate security and the policies and practices designed in response. Beginning with its 2007 chairing of the inaugural debate on climate security in the United Nations Security Council, the UK has taken an active role in positioning climate change as a global security threat requiring urgent attention. It has been instrumental in shaping the now-dominant framing of climate change as a “threat multiplier.” This has contributed to a construction of climate security that is malleable and combines various logics of security, including both human security and more traditional national security. The dominant result of these framings is the pursuit of policy interventions that emphasise adaptation and resilience, particularly for countries and regions deemed acutely vulnerable to climatic and political upheaval. This chapter concludes by suggesting that the UK may be escalating climate security to a new level of prominence, which offers some potential for new articulations of security discourse, such as ecological security, to emerge.KeywordsUnited KingdomClimateSecurityThreat multiplier
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This book provides a critical assessment of the theories and practice of environmental security in the context of the Anthropocene. The work analyses the intellectual foundations, the evolution and different interpretations, strengths and potential of the link between environment and security, but also its weaknesses, incoherencies and distortions. To do so, it employs a critical environmental security studies analytical framework and uniquely places this analysis within the context of the Anthropocene. Furthermore, the book examines the practice–theory divide, and the political implementation of the environmental security concept in response to global environmental change and in relation to different actors. It pays significant attention to the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), which is led by different programs of the United Nations, the OSCE and until recently by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), among others, and has largely been overlooked in the academic literature to date. The goal is to study how environmental security practice could inform and shape the environmental security theory, and also to explore how, conversely, new theoretical insights could contribute to the enhancement of environmental security activities. This book will be of great interest to students and academic scholars of Environmental Security, Critical Security Studies, Green Political Theory, Global Governance and International Relations in general.
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Geoengineering technologies aim to make large-scale and deliberate interventions in the climate system possible. A typical framing is that researchers are exploring a ‘Plan B’ in case mitigation fails to avert dangerous climate change. Some options are thought to have the potential to alter the politics of climate change dramatically, yet in evaluating whether they might ultimately reduce climate risks, their political and security implications have so far not been given adequate prominence. This article puts forward what it calls the ‘security hazard’ and argues that this could be a crucial factor in determining whether a technology is able, ultimately, to reduce climate risks. Ideas about global governance of geoengineering rely on heroic assumptions about state rationality and a generally pacific international system. Moreover, if in a climate engineered world weather events become something certain states can be made directly responsible for, this may also negatively affect prospects for ‘Plan A’, i.e. an effective global agreement on mitigation.
This collection gathers a set of seminal papers from the emerging area of ethics and climate change. Topics covered include human rights, international justice, intergenerational ethics, individual responsibility, climate economics, and the ethics of geoengineering. Climate Ethics is intended to serve as a source book for general reference, and for university courses that include a focus on the human dimensions of climate change. It should be of broad interest to all those concerned with global justice, environmental science and policy, and the future of humanity.