Why is the environment relevant
to the work of the FCO?
5. The purpose of the FCO is "to work for the
United Kingdom's interests in a safe, just and prosperous world".
The environment is relevant to the FCO for two main reasons. Firstly,
as the UK's primary representative abroad, the FCO must have the
appropriate knowledge and skills to be able to help deliver the
Government's international environmental aspirations. This is
particularly important due to the direct consequences for the
UK of many international environmental degradation issues, such
as climate change, and the UK's inability to deal with these unilaterally.
Secondly, the environment and sustainable development are important
components of any solution to the UK's other international priorities,
including those to deliver poverty reduction, manage migration,
limit terrorism, and prevent and resolve conflict.
6. The links between environmental degradation and
poverty are explored extensively in our earlier reports including
Trade, Development and Environment: The Role of DFID
and Outflanked: The World Trade Organisation, International
Trade and Sustainable Development.
The importance of addressing environmental issues in development
policies can not be overstated. The United Nations Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment Board found that development policies aimed
at eliminating poverty may well be "doomed to failure"
if the natural environment does not receive adequate protection.
This view was also taken by the UN Millennium Project which found
that long-term success in meeting Millennium Development Goals
(to quantifiably reduce extreme poverty) will be "transitory
and inequitable" without environmental sustainability. It
went on that "[t]he paramount importance and clear urgency
of environmental sustainability dictates immediate actions at
all scales - and the political, social, and ?nancial will be necessary
to sustain those actions".
Therefore it is clear that the FCO must focus on the environment
and sustainable development if it is to work towards eliminating
7. Environmental degradation and natural resource
pressures may also link via poverty to increased social
discontent, and might therefore create the conditions in which
violent conflict can take hold:
Persistent levels of poverty, particularly when associated
with profound deprivation, perceived injustices and forms of social
exclusion, are likely to create the grounds for increased social
discontent. This may create conditions for the onset of violent
forms of conflict. However, materialisation requires some form
of organised collective action. Although the chronically poor
are not typically found to be involved in organised socio-political
actions, chronic poverty may create triggers for mobilisation
of masses as recruitment may be easier amongst those with lesser
Chronic poverty may lead individuals to become soldiers/fighters
as a form of coping with poverty itself (e.g. Humphreys and Weinstein,
2004), as well as gain access to economic and social advantages
(e.g. Verwimp, 2005). However, different forms of conflict may
be triggered by different circumstances and different actors.
This hypothesis requires much more rigorous testing.
8. A number of studies also draw a direct link between
environmental degradation and an increasing likelihood of violent
conflict. Richard Tarasofsky, Chatham House, told the Sub-committee
that "the links between environment and international security
policy have become increasingly discernable over time".
He pointed to literature describing the links between scarce natural
resources, such as water, and increasing insecurity and instability.
9. These issues were expanded upon in an E3G working
paper, Sustainability and foreign policy, by Nick Mabey,
former Head of Sustainable Development in the FCO's now closed
Environmental Policy Department. This stated that international
environmental problems might lead to a number of situations:
In an optimistic scenario, problems like climate
change encourage global cooperation, innovation and creativity,
and inspire governments to act wisely to minimise impacts on the
poorest and weakest in society. However, it is also possible that
resource scarcity and environmental stress will drive countries
and societies into the politics of insecurity, exacerbating existing
divides of ethnicity, community, caste, income and region as groups
struggle to maintain their ability to use resources to the exclusion
of others. The challenge for policy makers is to avoid the second
scenario by building popular support for a serious and progressive
agenda for managing the costs and consequences of our acute environmental
10. Nick Mabey's paper also drew attention to the
role of "politicised revenue allocation from natural resources
based around ethnic, religious or regional lines" in driving
major conflict. Shifts in such revenue allocations as a result
of climate change might lead to destabilisation of regions as
traditional resource sharing agreements become inadequate to different
groups needs. For example, currently one third of the global population
live in areas experiencing moderate to high water stress. Future
population growth and a rising demand for water mean that millions
more people are expected to be living in water stressed regions.
However, alongside these demographic trends, climate models also
indicate that the effects of rising global temperatures will greatly
vary the distribution and characteristics of precipitation, leading
to even greater numbers of people experiencing water shortages.
A study quoted in the Stern Review indicated that a rise of 2
degrees Celsius will result in 1-4 billion people experiencing
increased water stress by 2080, dependent upon how fast the population
increases. The regions
where such shortages are likely to occur are concentrated in areas
that might be more prone to conflict due to existing tensions,
including Africa and the Middle East.
11. Conflict and environmental degradation or change
are also likely to lead to increased human migration which can,
in itself, lead to further conflict. Nick Mabey argued that migrations
due to recent drought in South-West Asia have been linked to increased
tensions in Kashmir and the recruitment of displaced people into
In addition to shifts in regional climate, climate change might
lead to the displacement and migration of many millions of people
as a result of sea-level rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change in 2001 found that sea level could rise between
9 to 88 cm by 2100.
An increase of 100 cm would result in the loss of one fifth of
Bangladesh's land area leading to the displacement of 15 million
people. The movement of so many people might exacerbate existing
tensions concerning migration in the area, which have already
led India to construct a 2500 km fence along its entire border
12. On a more positive note, the environment can
also be used as a diplomatic tool to aid in conflict avoidance.
The RSPB explained:
[W]e believe that biodiversity conservation can be
a force for unity, promoting collaboration between otherwise hostile
countries and offering a chance for the UK to promote a positive
image in countries where overall our relations with governments
are problematic. Environmental challenges ignore political boundaries,
bridge religious and ideological divides, encourage local and
non-governmental participation, and extend community building
beyond polarising economic linkages. The RSPB is supporting successful
conservation work by emerging NGOs in a number of countries where
civil society has traditionally been discouraged or stifled.
13. Chatham House agreed that the environment can
form part of a solution to armed conflicts. It pointed to the
creation of a "peace park" protected area between Ecuador
and Peru, agreed as part of a package to end a border conflict,
and secret negotiations between Syria and Israel about the possibility
of a protected area in the disputed Golan Heights. Chatham House
asserted that "'environmental peacekeeping' is increasingly
part of the toolkit in resolving insecurity".
14. The environment
plays a complex and important role in conflict and its resolution.
Sustainable development, climate change mitigation and environmental
protection should therefore be considered security issues of critical
importance to the UK Government and FCO. The UK must be a proponent
of a strong, coordinated, multilateral environmental system able
to avoid situations in which environmental degradation might lead
to instability or conflict. International action on environmental
challenges might also prove to be an important tool for fostering
closer international relations.