Episode 8: The Making of a Megatrend – Environmental Security Moves Center Stage

Since the Cold War, security has evolved from the security of the state and its resources to a broader sense that goes beyond the survival of nations. Today, security encompasses the environment, the economy, global health, cyber, biosecurity, demographic pressure and immigration, transnational crime, water and food security, and human rights.  

The alternative energy megatrend is both a technological and a social phenomenon that reflects the increasing ability of society to impose its will on security agendas, particularly on environmental security.

That brings us to the question: what is the relevance of the alternative energy megatrend when it comes to environmental security?

  • Environmental Geopolitics

Environmental threats strike irrespective of national boundaries, making environmental security a highly politicized issue not only within but also across nations. Unfortunately, policies designed to address threats to the environment have historically been limited in scope and results. Differing interests and goals have generated various cross-border approaches that have not yielded concrete advances. The deficit of viable policy actions is due, to a certain extent, to states distinguishing environmental security from explicit threats to national interests. Environmental threats have often proven too diffuse, their causes too difficult to determine, and their effects too hard to measure to become an actionable priority on national security agendas. That said, threats to the environment have become more tangible and are increasingly being identified as a systemic global risk.

This week, the U.S. Army released its first climate strategy. The strategy reveals that military strategists are increasingly worried about the security implications of climate change noting “an increased risk of armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted. The risk will rise even more where climate effects compound social instability, reduce access to basic necessities, undermine fragile governments and economies, damage vital infrastructure, and lower agriculture production.” This is important. The cause-effect relationship between environmental security and violent conflict is now more clear-cut.

Essentially, environmental threats will be an integrator of other risks. As highlighted by Javier Solana, threats such as climate change “act as a threat multiplier, worsening existing tensions in countries and regions which are already fragile and conflict-prone.” Environmental insecurity will therefore create other security concerns that will widen geopolitical divisions. At this juncture, alternative energy enters the environmental security debate as a viable tool for addressing the evolving environmental security challenges.

  • A Tangible Solution

Driven by both technological developments and societal expectations, the megatrend promises environmental security benefits to the extent that alternative energy developments are a tangible solution that addresses the most pressing environmental challenges. As a new piece in the policy toolkit, alternative energy developments are providing new venues for influencing geopolitical, environmental, and other global security considerations. They have achieved widespread acceptance, shaping the definition and, importantly, the practice of environmental security itself.

Renewables could supply four-fifths of the world’s electricity by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change. A lot needs to happen to make this a reality. But consider that “an estimated 30 percent of the global population in 2070 will live in areas that experience a mean annual temperature currently only found on 0.8 percent of the Earth’s surface.” And “the World Bank projects that, within sub-Saharan Africa alone, climatic changes will force between 57 million and 86 million people to migrate from their homes by 2050.” Against this backdrop, the role of renewable energy is likely to become even more important.

  • Mainstreaming Green Ideology

Another aspect integrating the megatrend and environmental security is the perceived ideological link between alternative energy and human welfare, health, and prosperity. From the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle to the imperative of so-called “green living,” environmental security issues are part of everyday life, embedded in ideology and shaping development, welfare, and security. Disparate groups—from conservation clubs and Europe’s Green parties to climate investment funds, ESG corporate trends, and big oil’s embrace of net-zero emissions, CEOs and political leaders have converged to become a modern, global, environmentally conscious movement embracing the importance of sustainable and effective environmental policies. Roof gardens in Paris or bike-sharing programs in New York City and London may not come as a surprise. However, an increasing number of cities in developing countries, such as Belo Horizonte, Bogota, and Accra, have instituted wide-ranging “green” city initiatives to manage growing urban populations, waste disposal, and water management.

Some environmental security advocates contend that alternative energy holds the universal solution to environmental threats. The concept of environmental security is therefore poised for a redefinition and transformation into “human habitat security,” and the megatrend is expected to play an important role in this process.