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Jitender Singh asked: How can environmental issues have security implications?

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  • P.K. Gautam replies: The “environment” comprises all entities, natural or man made, external to oneself, and their interrelationship, which provide value, now or perhaps in the future, to humankind. Environmental concerns relate to their degradation through actions of humans. Hence, there is a need to revisit the classic and traditional definition of security in the contemporary world, i.e., the standard answers to questions, such as security for whom, security from what, and who provides security. For example, water/food shortages, droughts, climate change related extreme weather events, and pandemics, cannot be prevented by guns, aircrafts, ships and tanks. Added to it now is the human security dimension beyond just the security of a state.

    A future with rising expectations and populations will strain the ecosystem and natural resources. The UN Secretary General’s High level Panel on Global Sustainability in its report, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, released in January 2012, stated that by 2030: “for a population of nine billion - the world may need 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water”. It suggests that there is a need for a new political economy, there is a need to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and promote inclusive growth, sustainable production and consumption, while combating climate change.

    The fifth edition of the UN Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), released prior to Rio+20 meeting in June 2012, “assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.” The UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, speaking on the occasion, stated that, "if current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation”.

    Summaries of resource conflict theories are available in SIPRI Yearbook 2011.  It is important to note that most of these issues are not securitised for then they may be more difficult to address as tools are mostly non-military.  Yet, environmental issues are among the main security concerns today.