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ICPEP-3 (2005) Souvenir

Growing Threats to Environmental Security

Prof. C. K. Varshney

Former Dean and Professor, School of Environmental Sciences,

Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi- 110067.


Since the Stockholm Conference the concern for environmental security has rapidly grown and is now considered an important issue of global agenda for peace and security. In spite of its growing importance there is no unanimity among scholars about the meaning and content of environmental security. Traditionally, the notion of national security has been understood as a set of conditions that guarantees the ability of a State to protect its citizens, and pursue its national interests, free from both real and imagined impediments and threats. In contrast, environmental security is concerned with relative safety from environmental change caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders. Environmental change implies destabilizing the delicate ecosystem equilibrium developed and fine tuned over billions of years of evolution. Threats to environmental security are usually diffuse, unintended, trans-national, cause and effect often separated in time and space, have long term implications, and their resolution require commitment and cooperation from a wide range of actors.

Over exploitation and ecosystem degradation poses serious threat to environmental security. Environmental deterioration and degradation involving deforestation, decertification, reclamation of wetlands, damming of rivers, clearing of riverine and mangrove vegetation in coastal areas have frayed the natural safety net that healthy ecosystems provide. According to recent estimates environmental degradation is threatening the health and livelihoods of two billion people living in arid regions round the world.

Ecosystem disruption and over exploitation of natural resources are important drivers of violent conflict within and between States, leading to human misery and loss of life. Ecosystem disruption from natural disasters - Tsunami, floods in Mumbai, Hurricane Katrina - caused: large scale devastation, unprecedented misery and loss of human life. Weather related' disasters have growing economic and human toll. The economic losses from such type of disasters during 2004 were almost twice the total in 2003. Unless effective prophylactic and remedial measures are taken, tsunami and Katrina type of disasters will soon be common feature in the coming decades.

Instead of invading armies we must now contemplate the like of 'invading' pollution, rising sea levels, increased ultra violet radiation, and increased threat of diseases, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and bird flue that are as much threatening as any warfare. Reckless tampering with the earth's life support systems and habitat loss has taken heavy toll of the regions rich biodiversity resources. Continued loss of biological diversity threatens human health and undermines economic potential. Threats to environmental security are potential trigger of economic and political conflicts. Moreover, environmental security is a prerequisite for achieving the 'Millennium Development Goals'

To protect the citizens and to ensure their wellbeing, nations must plan and promote environmental conservation for safeguarding environmental security. Healthy ecosystems form the underpinnings of environmental security, sustainable development and long term wellbeing of people. Often causes and origin of threats to environmental security layout side the national borders. Trans-boundary issues remain out side the scope of national legislation and institutions. For pragmatic reasons cooperation between nations is vitally important. Innovative means and mechanisms have to be devised to take collective action for environmental protection through policies that are cooperatively defined and implemented.

Growing threats to environmental security demand promotion of 'collective security', a new form of diplomacy and international co-operation. Resolution of environment security threats will not only remedy the environmental constraints but will also serve as confidence building measure contributing towards peace making. In view of global ecological interdependence there is a need to design new forms of ecologically enlightened development, diplomacy and governance.

This article has been reproduced from the Souvenir released during the Third International Conference

on Plants & Environmental Pollution (ICPEP-3) held at Lucknow from  28 November to 2 December 2005.

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