Insecurity, the Anthropocene & nature’s tipping points

Each February, leaders, policy-makers, thinkers and practitioners in the field of security, broadly defined, get together at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich for a three day international conference. At the Munich Security Conference in February 2019, Germany’s then Chancellor, Angela Merkel, opened her speech by reflecting on the world’s entry into a new geochronological age – the Anthropocene Epoch. 

She explained, “This means that we are living in an age in which humankind’s traces penetrate so deeply into the Earth that future generations will regard it as an entire age created by humans.” She briefly touched on different human impacts on the environment and then said, “All of this has implications for global security and for the issues that are being discussed right here, right now.”

Right here, right now, too right.

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Environment of Peace: the research report in full

In the last couple of months I have been writing and posting articles based on the material assembled for the policy report, Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk that SIPRI published in May and first launched at the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development. Now, with not a little sigh of relief combined with a real sense of achievement, SIPRI has published the research on which the policy report is based.

It is published in four parts.

  • Part 1, which I had the honour of being the lead author for, is entitled ‘Elements of a Planetary Emergency’.
  • Part 2, led by Cedric de Coning, is ‘Security Risks of Environmental Crises’.
  • Part 3, led by Geoff Dabelko, is ‘Navigating a Just and Peaceful Transition’.
  • And Part 4, led by Melvis Ndiloseh and Hafsa Maalim, is ‘Enabling an Environment of Peace’.

It’s a pretty chunky read – 277 pages and, for those who like to keep count, 1648 endnotes with the supporting references. The five lead authors were backed by a team of about 30 researchers and guided by an international advisory panel.

At the close of 2022, perhaps some of us risk feeling overwhelmed. It is crisis, crisis, crisis all over the place: hunger, biodiversity, energy, economy, supply chains, mental health, security, migration, cost of living and climate. If we manage not to turn away from all of them, it is all too tempting to focus on one or two, either as the magic key for solving the whole lot, or because that’s all the mind can handle.

The uncomfortable fact is that these crises are connected and interacting. The aim of the Environment of Peace initiative that SIPRI set going in 2020 is to understand and explain how those interconnections work, and show how knowing about them can be turned to advantage as we find inter-connected solutions.

Probably the full research report is not everybody’s cup of green tea. But the policy report could be. I didn’t have a hand in writing it so I can contentedly say it is extremely well written and clearly presented and super-well worth the read. And for those who want to explore more deeply or check out the underlying evidence and analytical foundations, the full research report is there for you.

The year of the twin crises

This is the year when we face the reality of a dark horizon for global security. War in Ukraine since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its not-so-stealthy takeover of parts of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine has escalated with the Russian invasion in February. Meanwhile, confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan has intensified and there are approximately 50 other active armed conflicts worldwide.

At the same time, in case anybody has forgotten, this is the year of climate change – the worst heatwave on record in China, a once in 500 years drought in Europe, complete with the re-emergence of hunger stones in major rivers for the first time in centuries, drought and record heat in India, massive flooding in Pakistan, drought and surging food insecurity in the Horn of Africa

The twin crises of security and the environment add up to a planetary emergency. The heavy events of 2022 on both the security and the environmental sides of the equation are symptoms of deep, underlying problems. The further problem is that the two crises are linked: each feeds the other.

And behind them is a third problem, in that governments and international organisations alike lack adequate mechanisms and instruments for addressing these environmental and security challenges.

Laying out the evidence, analysing the trends and causes, and identifying what to do about it all is the subject of SIPRI’s report, Environment of Peace: Security in a new era of risk, published in May.

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Compound risk, response and prevention: learning to act where problems intersect

The Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development is co-convened annually by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which I have the honour to lead, and Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year ‘s Forum was held in early May. Like the 2020 edition, it was online. The theme was Promoting Peace in the Age of Compound Risk.

The Forum was big. This post offers some summary reflections about what was discussed and what those discussions tell us about the way ahead.

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Climate change and security: here’s the analysis, when’s the action?

Last week’s communiqué from the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Lübeck included a statement on climate change and security. In welcoming a report, A New Climate for Peace, to which my organisation International Alert contributed, the communiqué moves the issue forward and declares it to be worthy of high level political attention. Unfortunately, what is to be done is not so clear. Continue reading

Planetary Boundaries and the risks we run as we cross them

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has produced a new study of the planetary boundaries, a concept it first unleashed on the planet in 2009. It reveals a worsening situation. It has received considerable media attention as an issue of  environmental impact. But it is much more than that.  Continue reading

The conflict horizon 1: Untold good news

Peace is the big, under-reported good news story of the 20-plus years since the Cold War ended. There are fewer wars than in the 1980s. There have been more peace agreements, and an increasing proportion of them endure for longer.

Good. Because the next 20 years will make the last 20 seem like a rehearsal for the real thing. Continue reading

The case for the EU having an external action service

EU High Representative and EC Vice-President Catherine Ashton steps down from leading the European External Action Service in late 2014. She has presented her review of the organisation and how to make it more efficient. But despite her best efforts the basic case for the EEAS remains unclear to many. Winning that case depends not on efficiency alone but on whether the EEAS meets an important need.  Continue reading

Resources – the coming crunch and some things that could be done about it

As I remarked already, and it’s the starting point for the new edition of my State of the World Atlas (published this week), the human population is seven times greater than it was 200 years ago but our use of resources is disproportionately greater still: we produce 50 times as much, using 60 times as much water and 75 times as much energy. Where is that all going – and perhaps more to the point, how long can it keep on going? A new report offers insights. Continue reading

DRC’s deadlock – new dangers, new beginnings

Democratic Republic of Congo: In Kinshasa , the summit meeting of La Francophonie replete with heads of state, resounding speeches and ringing declarations; in the east, 2 million displaced people and rising tension as the M-23 rebels sit just 15 kilometres from Goma, capital of North Kivu province, held back only by an uncertain ceasefire; on TV, repeated statements that this is the 187/8/9th day of aggression by Rwanda.

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