Greening the EU’s foreign and security policy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The EU should mainstream climate change and security in its foreign policy. [Nicole S. Glass/ Shutterstock]

Climate change and ecosystem degradation are significant security threats. The European Union should take urgent action to address these as a part of its foreign and security policy, write Johanna Nyman and Marianne Kettunen.

Johanna Nyman and Marianne Kettunen are policy analysts at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, a green think-tank.

The security impacts of a rapidly deteriorating environment and a changing climate are becoming increasingly apparent. Combined with a growing world population, the pressures on the natural environment and competition over natural resources are considered key peace and security challenges of the 21st century.

The EU has taken its first steps to recognise the security threat posed by climate change and environmental degradation, but has a long way to go in order to address the challenge in its true magnitude. The issue was high on the agenda of the Munich Security Conference and later the Planetary Security Conference in Den Haag will discuss the concrete links between environment and security.

A number of EU Member States are emerging as leaders on climate, environment and security. The momentum to link climate and environment with the global security agenda and to move from thought to action, demonstrating EU leadership, is now.

Climate change and environmental degradation are rapidly altering ecosystems, landscapes and societies. The effects of climate change include a sharp increase in extreme weather events as well as gradual change in the climate, such as increased droughts and rising sea levels. This negatively affects livelihoods, resource availability and food security. Because of all these impacts, fragile socio-political or socio-economic situations can be exacerbated, existing tensions might be fuelled or new conflicts might appear, even pushing people into terrorism.

The effects of climate change and environmental degradation also force people to migrate, which might add further pressure and exacerbate existing threats. According to the International Organizations for Migration there were 18 million people forced to leave their homes because of extreme weather events in 2017 and many more who migrated because of drought, salination, and changes in rainfall patterns.

And not just the human response to these pressures, but also ecosystem degradation in its own right – with or without links to climate change – must be recognised as posing a threat to human and national security. This can happen through overexploitation of water, land and biodiversity resources and resultant loss of ecosystem services.

There is a close link between the environmental underpinnings of human security and national security. But what – beyond the obvious answer of reducing emissions and our ecological footprint – needs to be done about it?

From thought to action

The recently updated EU foreign policy framework provides a good basis for the integration of environment into security, paving the way towards a more holistic regime and interaction between the foreign, security and defence elements of the policy framework. It recognises the important role that environmental stability and well-functioning ecosystems play in conflict situations. This strategic vision must now be implemented in practice, through the means of environmental and climate diplomacy and pushing for a dedicated and recognised, international regime for environmental security.

EU policy action on climate and environmental security should focus on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, with environment protection and ecosystems conservation and restoration as key methods to deliver these goals. This action could centre around three key aspects; including environmental diplomacy and international cooperation, knowledge creation and capacity building, and providing financial support from the EU budget.

There should be significant investment in environmental and climate diplomacy to mainstream these aspects in EU foreign and security policy as key determinants for human, national, EU and international security. The focus should be on promoting policies and actions with a long-term vision on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. These should build on an understanding of the role well-functioning and well-managed ecosystems play in underpinning human and broader security aspects.

The EU should continue to play a key role in creating and sharing knowledge related to the security threats of climate change and environmental degradation, especially by improving horizon scanning and early warning indicators. That means we also need increased investment in the capacity of and coordination between key institutional agents, and capacity building across institutions.

The current and post-2020 EU Multiannual Financial Frameworks (MFFs) should provide concrete opportunities to finance pioneering action on environment, climate and security. This would include funding of both knowledge creation and diplomacy initiatives, including encouraging the uptake of climate, environment and security related activities as part of the EU’s development cooperation.

The EU as a driver for global action

The UN Security Council has had a number of debates on climate and environmental security and in 2017 the Council broke new ground by recognising, in resolution 2349, the adverse effects climate change and ecological changes had on stability in the Lake Chad Basin. EU Member States, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, are among the countries championing the topic and coordination and support by the EU is considered crucial in driving this agenda even further.

Acknowledging the role environment and ecosystems play in underpinning security means a departure from security and defence policy as traditionally perceived. It requires a more holistic regime that goes beyond military preparedness or response, making the necessary links to a range of sectoral activities that impact the quality and resilience of the environment and ecosystems.

The integration of environment into the EU’s defence and security frameworks, with increased links to broader foreign policy, plays a critical role in enabling the EU to uphold its promise to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and should be discussed as a part of the broader, ongoing Sustainable Europe debate .

The EU can play a key role in reforming the security agenda by recognising climate change and environmental degradation as the security threats they are and finding effective policy responses to address them.

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