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Environmental Security, Stable Social Order and Culture

New Delhi, 21 February 2000 - Speech by Klaus Toepfer

 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

* It is my great pleasure to participate in this symposium on "Environmental Security, Stable Social Order and Culture". I must also take this opportunity to especially welcome one of our distinguished panelists - Madame Shabana Azmi. I know all of you will join me in congratulating her on her winning the prestigious Filmfare Best Actress of the year Award. We must recognize that films like ideas have consequences. They shape the concepts and vocabularies that we use to approach the problems of our time.

* We cannot narrow our vision to only railroads, bridges and factories. Nor can we narrow our endeavours merely to imitation. We must make economic prosperity foster intellectual and spiritual contributions which keep our civilizations alive and contribute to the onward march of human civilization.

* A great man once said:
"I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."
* That man was Mahatma Gandhi.
* I believe we would do well to remember his words today.

* The issue of culture and values has seldom enjoyed more attention in the study of international relations. At the core of much of this discussion is the issue of diversity versus homogeneity.

Excellencies,

* The great economic and social issues of our time are intimately linked with the quest for political stability. But a more significant long-term development of the past few years has been the intensification of the debate concerning the impact of the current ecological crises on the political stability of nations, and regions and even within societies.

* Today, people around the world, particularly in the developing world are struggling to survive in the face of growing deserts, dwindling forests, declining fisheries, poisoned food, water, air and climatic extremes and weather events that continue to intensify - floods, droughts and hurricanes.

* The question that must be asked is whether the scarcity of renewable resources - such as cropland, forest, freshwater and fisheries - could precipitate violent civil or international conflicts?

* There are clear signs that environmental scarcities could contribute to violent conflicts in many parts of the world. In the coming decades, accelerating environmental pressures could transform the very foundations of the international political system.

* Typically, when people are faced with a severely degraded environment, the behavioral strategy of choice is migration.

* There are at least 25 million environmental refugees today, a total to be compared with 22 million refugees of traditional kind. The total may well double by the year 2010, as increasing numbers of impoverished people press ever harder on their already degraded environments.

* Let us take the availability of water first. Supplies of fresh water are finite. The populations of water-short countries today, estimated to be 550 million, are expected to increase to one billion by the year 2010. Water shortages will be especially adverse for agriculture in general and irrigation agriculture in particular.

* As the demand grows and in the absence of clear consensus on how best to use shared water resources for the benefit of all, that competition has the potential of erupting into acrimonious disputes.

* Nearly 47 per cent of the land area of the world excluding Antarctica falls within international water basins that are shared by two or more countries. There are 44 countries with at least 80 per cent of their total areas within international basins. The number of rivers and lake basins shared by two or more countries is now more than 300. In Africa alone, there are 54 drainage basins that cover approximately 50 per cent of the total land area of the continent.

* An even greater threat to future human welfare is through the undermining of the productivity of the land through accelerated soil erosion, increased flooding and declining soil fertility.

* The rate at which arable land is being lost is increasing and is currently 30-35 times the historical rate. Only about one and a half billion hectares remain out of the original three and a half billion. The loss of potential productivity due to soil erosion world wide is estimated to be equivalent to some 20 million tons of grain per year or 1% of global production.

* The growing number of people affected by desertification - estimated to be one billion - are not simply waiting to be touched by the magic wand of development. They are literally "losing ground", as their lands suffer more and more from the effects of this disease.

* The continuous decline of global biological diversity and the traditional habitats of indigenous and traditional people also has an impact on intensifying conflicts between and within societies.

* Most of the areas of mega-biodiversity are inhabited by indigenous and traditional people. They provide an inextricable link between cultural and biological diversity.

* Today, we are in the process of profoundly remaking international trade and markets. Globalization and international trade have become almost an ideology, promising a radiant future for us all. But is there a dark side? Have we looked at other impacts? For example, is globalization destroying subsistence agriculture? Are we co-opting Third World farmers into production for the international marketplace, while their societies are made dependent on imported food?

* According to UNEP's forthcoming publication "Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity" nearly 2,500 languages are in immediate danger of extinction. And "even a higher number are losing the "ecological contexts" that keep them vibrant as languages".

* Cultural diversity is more than skin colour or physical characteristics. It is more than language, song and dance. It is the embodiment of values, institutions and patterns of behaviour. It is a composite whole representing a people's historical experience, aspirations and world view. Deprive a people of their language, culture and spiritual values, and you deprive them of their sense of direction and purpose.

* Political conflicts occur when political and economic institutions and processes wrest control over traditionally held resources without negotiations or compensation. Conflicts could occur when political and economic institutions and processes degrade environmental settings, and place individuals and populations at risk.

* Political conflicts occur because people find themselves forcibly relocated while governments and industry expand export-oriented industries, develop international tourist facilities and set aside the biocommons for development.

Ladies and Gentlemen

* I would also like to refer to the increasing phenomenon of urban violence as a threat to the existing social order. Urban violence is a multifaceted phenomenon. It includes common crimes against private property, violent crime, abuse of women and children, murder, drug-related offences and the trade in women and children. It also involves uncivic acts such as the careless destruction of public spaces and domestic violence.

* Urban violence creates a feeling of insecurity among inhabitants. It tears the social fabric of cities, threatening the foundations of democratic institutions. It erodes the social capital of the urban poor and increases the vulnerability of groups already at risk. It creates urban ghettos. As urban violence often occurs in a climate of corruption, it often leads to the development of organized crime.

* Urban violence is not a spontaneous occurrence. It is, above all, the product of social exclusion. Measures that protect urban communities from deprivation, unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy, injustice and social disintegration will also protect them from crime and violence.

* Rapid urbanization and poverty partly explain the scale and extent of urban violence and crime. But there are other factors as well. I refer to the political and economic climate, local traditions and values, and the degree of social cohesion and solidarity among urban communities. Erosion of moral values and the collapse of social structures and institutions, such as the family or the neighbourhood, put communities more at risk from urban violence and crime.

* Fear prevents people - particularly women - choose not to use the streets, parks and other public spaces. This kind of self-imposed social isolation among large sections of the urban population affects not only their mobility. It also affects their productivity as more and more people choose to stay at home rather than risk their lives on the streets.

* The traditional criminal justice institutions, such as the police and the judiciary, alone cannot stop the escalation of urban violence or even control it. Today there is a consensus that reducing crime is everybody's responsibility and that it should include prevention.

* Cities have a primary role in coordinating the activities aimed at reducing crime, particularly those activities aimed at crime prevention.

* As stated in the Habitat Agenda, local governments should work in partnership with all interested parties to prevent, reduce and eliminate violence and crime. They have to promote crime prevention through social development. They must find ways to help communities deal with underlying factors that undermine community safety and result in crime. They have to promote personal security and reduce fear by improving police services. They must make police services more accountable to the communities they serve. And they must encourage the formation of community-based crime prevention measures and systems.

* To implement such an approach, cities require a rigorous appraisal of the crime situation, a local action plan adopted by key city actors based on clear priorities. This partnership approach is innovative. It does not look at security as being exclusively the responsibility and concern of the State, the police or private security services.

* Rather, it involves a local coalition of key actors who participate in the local diagnosis of insecurity, and in the formulation and implementation of the solutions. It makes the police and the justice systems more accessible to the people. It makes each citizen an actor in the (re)building of security. It is also innovative in generating practices such as community policing; alternative justice systems or mediation practices; special committees addressing urban safety for women; NGOs and police forces committed to dealing with domestic violence, etc.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* The half decade since the demise of the Cold War has been characterized by numerous attempts at redefining the notion of security.

* The classical conception of security in world politics is rooted in Walter Lippmann's famous contention that security is about the possession by a state of a level of military capability sufficient to avert the danger of having to sacrifice core values, if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war.

* This traditional conception of security is now being challenged by the emergence of new issues. As military threats have subsided or disappeared, other threats, especially environmental ones, have emerged with greater clarity. It is thus possible to argue that environmental care is an essential component of national or international security.

* Armed force is impotent in the face of ecological breakdown. It is relentless ecological degradation, rather than any external enemy, which poses the gravest threat to international and national security today.

* Clearly, any aspect which threatens the survival of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants should be treated as a security threat. International security has to rest on the elimination of the real scourges of humankind - hunger, disease, illiteracy, poverty and deterioration of the earth's life systems.

Excellencies,

* The global community must improve its ability to identify emerging environmental problems and assess alternative responses. Formulating effective global, regional and national policies on matters vital to our future requires the ability, the foresight capability to make accurate, long term projections of global trends and their interactions in areas such as population, natural resources, environmental quality and other factors of geopolitical significance. It also requires a structure to link the results of such projections directly to current decision making.

* Foresight is not prediction. It is not central planning. And it is not a surrender to computer models. Rather it is a process for bringing better information into the decision making process, for linking analysis and decision, and for obtaining the best available description of the potential implications of policy choices. Foresight capability is a means for giving substance to the ecologist insight that "everything is connected". Foresight is the capability to effectively assess and monitor the long-term changes in the environment. It will also give us the ability to identify environmental hot spots with the potential of breaking into violent conflicts.

* Environmental security can also be improved by reducing the distance between the decision makers and the people who are supposed to benefit from their decisions. The challenge before the global community is to design enabling mechanisms to increase people's participation in development. And it has to maintain an effective two-way information link between national governments, international agencies and local communities and to ensure that the benefits of sustainable development reach the marginalized, the politically invisible masses.

Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme
At the Teri Silver Jubilee Conference Series
New Delhi, 21 February 2000

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