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Environmental stress threatens global security, UCI study finds


Disastrous effects of climate change can be mitigated through global reforms

Irvine, Calif., June 2008
Environmental stresses such as climate change and resource scarcity pose enormous threats to global stability. Armed conflicts over food and water and the effects of increasingly severe storms and flooding might be avoided if the private sector and nonprofit and government entities team up to take action, according to a new report prepared for the International Peace Institute by Richard A. Matthew, director of UCI’s Center for Unconventional Security Affairs (

The solutions to problems created by scarce natural resources, ecosystem damage, climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often within our grasp, says Matthew.

“The challenge,” he says, “is bringing together a critical mass of groups with a variety of interests to create enough momentum to make a difference. The thousands of micro-level actions being taken around the world are important and often courageous, but now is the time for a step up in scale.”

Technology and human ingenuity already are available in wealthy countries to mitigate the effects of disease outbreaks, deadly heat waves, floods and water shortages, Matthew says, but are woefully out of reach for the world’s poor.

Drawing on more than a decade of climate change and environmental security research by economists and social scientists, Matthew came up with recommendations to lessen the impact of water, food and fuel shortages on the world’s poorest communities. They include:

Encourage the creative expansion of social entrepreneurship. Link resource management and climate change adaptation to the microfinance efforts that bring capital and other services to about 100 million of the world’s most impoverished people.

Stop wasting environmental policy resources on costly world summits and similar initiatives, and focus instead on teaching communities how to manage environmental stressors and implement sustainable practices.

Support efforts by the U.N. Environment Program to integrate environmental issues into conflict assessment, disaster management and peacebuilding.

Change the way environmental and security research is conducted. Shift the focus from European and North American methods to research that links natural science to indigenous expertise, especially in vulnerable areas such as Northern and Southern Africa, Central and South Asia, and parts of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Support forward-looking, interdisciplinary research that helps the world anticipate the social effects of climate change, such as massive migrations, spontaneous settlements around urban areas and chronic, low-intensity violence.

The report, “Resource Scarcity: Responding to the Security Challenge,” was recently published by IPI and reinforces research presented by Matthew to the newly formed U.N. Peacebuilding Commission. This intergovernmental advisory body aims to prevent and settle armed conflicts through policy research and development.


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