A report from the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI) has warned that world leaders are unprepared for a "new era" of complex and unpredictable risks to peace.
The report, titled "Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk", looks at how environmental crises such as the climate crisis and resource scarcity interact with security, conflict, and the fallout of COVID-19, and then makes recommendations to governments and other decision-making bodies. The paper "paints a vivid picture of the escalating security crisis,” a press release from the Institute said. “It notes that between 2010 and 2020 the number of state-based armed conflicts roughly doubled (to 56), as did the number of conflict deaths."
"The number of refugees and other forcibly displaced people also doubled, to 82.4 million. In 2020 the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads increased after years of reductions, and in 2021 military spending surpassed $2 trillion for the first time ever.”
The report notes that the increase of conflict had begun long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The authors write that the interaction between the "darkening security horizon" and environmental decline creates new and more complex risks, which so far humanity has failed to grasp.
"It is clear that the two crises do interact," the authors write in the paper. "Countries facing the highest levels of ecological threat are statistically likely to be those where peace is at its most tenuous. They also tend to be marked by fragility and low capacity for resilience.
For the most part, these countries have done little to cause the global environmental crisis, but they bear the brunt of its effects. Half of the ongoing United Nations peace operations are in countries with the highest exposure to climate change impacts. These correlations are not coincidences."
What's more, as the environment degrades and the security horizon darkens, the problem is getting worse.
"Beyond their direct effects, climate change and the wider environmental crisis contribute to insecurity," they write. "The evidence shows that they often generate social and political instability, which, unresolved, can escalate into violence. Armed conflict not only damages the environment, but it makes effective environmental governance harder to achieve. Confrontation, disputes and conflict also sour the international atmosphere for arriving at cooperative responses to environmental challenges."
The report warns that time to face these challenges is running out.
"The challenges are immense and the timescale tight," SIPRI Director and Environment of Peace author Dan Smith said in a press release. "Even as governments deal with acute situations such as the invasion of Ukraine or the COVID-19 pandemic, they cannot lose sight of the profound challenges that lie ahead."
The authors hope that the public and institutions that read the report will take away three things: that there is an urgent need to anticipate problems caused by the link between environmental and security issues, that action on reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is needed now before it makes other security challenges worse, and that "there is hope".
"Humanity has the knowledge and skills to escape from the trouble in which we find ourselves," the team write in the report. "We can draw hope from the examples of collaborative actions being taken by governments, civil society, local communities and multinational groupings that are successfully addressing hazardous situations. The need is to learn from them and scale-up."