Geo-Politics of Environment

March 19, 2017

The Geopolitics of Environment

by Giulio Boccaletti

Much of the world seems to be on edge. The West’s relationship with Russia, the future of NATO, the Syrian civil war and refugees, rising right-wing populism, the impact of automation, and the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union: all of these topics – and more – have roiled public debate worldwide. But one issue – one might say the most significant of them all – is being ignored or pushed aside: the environment.

Image result for Environmental challenges of 21st century

That was the case at this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Beyond a mention of the Paris climate agreement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, topics like climate change and sustainable development didn’t even make it to the main stage. Instead, they were relegated to side meetings that rarely seemed to intersect with current political and economic events.

Allowing environmental issues to fall by the wayside at this time of geopolitical and social instability is a mistake, and not just because this happens to be a critical moment in the fight to manage climate change. Environmental degradation and natural-resource insecurity are undermining our ability to tackle some of the biggest global issues we face.

Environmental insecurity is a major, though often underestimated, contributor to global instability. The UN High Commission on Refugees reports that natural disasters have displaced more than 26 million people per year since 2008 – almost a third of the total number of forcibly displaced people in this time period.

Image result for global environmental disasters

Even the current refugee crisis has an environmental element. In the years leading up to the war, Syria experienced its most extreme drought in recorded history. That drought, together with unsustainable agricultural practices and poor resource management, contributed to the internal displacement of 1.5 million Syrians and catalyzed political unrest ahead of the 2011 uprising.

The link between environmental and agricultural pressures extends far beyond Syria. Over-reliance on specific geographies for agriculture means that food production can exacerbate environmental problems, or even create new ones. This can pit global consumer interests against local citizen interests, as it has along the Mississippi River, where fertilizer runoff from one of the world’s breadbaskets is contributing to concerns about water quality.

The connection goes both ways, with environmental conditions also shaping agricultural production – and, in turn, the prices of agricultural commodities, which represent about 10% of traded goods worldwide. For example, rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are already driving up the price of coffee. With the global land area suitable for growing coffee set to contract by up to half by 2050, price pressures will only intensify.

A sudden shift toward trade protectionism could drive up agricultural commodity prices further. Such an increase would affect farm-level household income, favoring some farmers while harming others. End consumers, particularly the poor and vulnerable, would also suffer.

Another reason why the environment should be at the center of economic debates is its role as the world’s single largest employer. Almost a billion people, just under 20% of the world’s labor force, are formally employed in agriculture. Another billion or so are engaged in subsistence farming, and therefore don’t register in formal wage statistics.

Any initiatives to support economic development must support this population’s transition toward higher-productivity activities. This is particularly important at a time when increasingly sophisticated and integrated technology threatens to leapfrog an entire generation of workers in some countries. Efforts to benefit this huge population must focus not only on training and education, but also on new models that allow countries to capitalize on their natural capital – the landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes – without depleting it.

Just as natural-resource insecurity can cause displacement and vulnerability, effective natural-resource management can support conflict resolution and sustainable economic development. On this front, efforts to achieve environmental remediation, to boost the resilience of rural communities, to advance sustainable agricultural production, and to support community-based environmental stewardship have all shown promising results.

Consider the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organization focused on creating community conservancies to enable sustainable and equitable land use in Kenya. NRT has helped pastoralist communities establish effective governance mechanisms for the environment on which they depend, reducing conflict over grazing rights, especially in times of drought.

For many communities, members’ relationship with the landscape in which they live is an integral part of their identity. With effective governance and planning, open dialogue, resource-sharing frameworks, and sufficient investment, including in skills training, these communities can translate this relationship into effective environmental stewardship – and build healthier and more secure societies.

The crises engulfing the modern world are complex. But one thing is clear: the environment is connected to all of them. Solutions will mean little without a healthy world in which to implement them.


8 thoughts on “Geo-Politics of Environment

  1. The United Nations has already warned that global warming may trigger new conflicts for access to food, clean water and energy, or even more livable land and that the poorer regions of the world are likely to be the most affected. The current international competition for the natural resources of the Middle East, Africa, South America and the oceans and polar regions, in the context of rapidly multiplying natural mega-disasters, is a sign of things to come.

    The United States is the largest greenhouse gas emissions contributor to global temperature rise, follow by China, Russia, Brazil and India. Unfortunately, we now have an idiot in the White House who believes global warming or climate change is “fake”. That it is a conspiracy against the economy of the United States. Anything his tiny intellect cannot understand is “fake”. Anything he does not like is “fake”. He is living in the bubble of his own fake world. He is a fake president.

    When most people think about how to tackle climate change, they think about changing how we produce and use energy. But according to the analysis of many experts, natural systems can store about a quarter of annual greenhouse gas emissions. This can be done by protecting, restoring and altering the way we use our forests, grasslands, wetlands and working lands – using solutions already available to us today. By maximizing the ability of nature to better absorb and store carbon, as well as increase the climate resilience of communities, we will also ensure more vibrant and diverse forests, grasslands, wetlands and mangroves, more food and water security for communities and more habitat for animals and plants. The benefits are clear, multi-faceted, and dramatic.

    Donald John Trump, join the world to save our environment and save our earth! Or leave our earth to return to the planet where you came from.

  2. Yup LaMoy, this POTUS is a Sum of All Idiots (SAI) – the Hokkien speak for shit.
    His admin has already put paid to NASA’s Earth science projects. See here:

    While i’m no tree-hugger, i just saw a documentary about the effect of the US corn-belt, that puts out 6% more oxygen and acts as a massive Carbon sink by photosynthesis than the entire Amazon Basin does. But the price to be paid is the deleterious effect on the biodiversity and health of the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio watershed.

    The Zillion tree-planting efforts of Chinese peasants to retard creeping desertification of the north west China should be a model for the Sahel and Central Asian nations. Apparently it only works in the Ivory Coast, as the political situation in West-Central Africa remains dodgy.

    The problem with renewal power generation (wind, tidal, geothermal and solar) besides fossil fuels are constraints on power storage and grid flexibility. Hydro-power causes more problems than it solves. So i would give the Gen 3-4 nuclear (molten salt/fast-breeder, or Thorium based) generation plants where waste disposal ain’t so difficult my vote. Now, now.., don’t go ‘critical’ or chain react on me..

    Anyone here actually drives an electric car, in the name of a Greenie? You ought to be shot! Cuz you don’t know the first thing about Conservation of Energy, Thermodynamics or Power generation. Hybrids are okay and so are Hydrogen Cell, otherwise just drive a tiny moped.

    Me? Lagi moronic.. I love tobacco. Which is why the environment-farming-manufacturing-economics and politics is important.

    • CLF:
      What did you do for a living, mate? Somehow I have the feeling that you were in some kinds of a bio-chem field like me.

    • Ha ha LaMoy, CLF is a social worker who empties his wallet in the golden triangle in between reading tea leaves for some Taikor and now runs a crèche besides trading with Comrade Xi.

  3. LaMoy buddy, besides many other subjects, biochem was one of the my basic varsity courses in the 70’s. Was always good at the basic sciences, but my math suck sometimes. More inclined to the soft sciences and i really wanted to become a chem engineer. UK beckoned with unconditional offers, but too poor to go. So they shunted folks like me into Din’s alma mater (at that time, still prestigious) doing what was most needed here – whether we liked it or not. Oh well..

    I respect your intellect and value your support of this blog by your insights into many issues of topical interest. I agree that we try keep our attainments strictly personal. We do not crow since we leave that to the gagaks. It takes a confident man to be married to brilliant lady with an MBA and Phd with a science background. –Din Merican

    My better half graduated with a biochem bachelors and proceeded with a MBA and PhD after starting a family. Nothing like spousal support eh? Semiretired now, but keep going to prevent tau and A-beta amyloid accumulation between the ears. Neither do we play golf! We spend time between Goonland (more) and Oz (less), as we have youngsters over there.

    Can’t divulge too much on social networks cuz of unwarranted attention, but Din and Semper fi know who i am, and as all good friends do – we keep personal things confidential.

    Do you still visit back here?

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, bro. Just curious why you know so much about bio-chem stuff. I haven’t been back to Malaysia for the last ten years, for I have no relatives or friends there any more. But I go to Hong Kong quite often, as I still own a cozy house in the Mid Level and my youngest daughter living there. I have quite a few friends in Hong Kong. I’ll visit Malaysia again if you promise to treat me at the stalls at Jalan Alor from front to end. Or do they have better eatery places nowadays? I am not asking for much, do I?

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