There is a growing understanding that the destruction and over-exploitation of natural resources and ecosystems can threaten the security of communities and nations. Competition over declining natural resources such as forests, fresh water, fisheries or fertile soils, exacerbated by climate change impacts and migratory movements of population, is a threat to stability and peace. Similarly, transboundary pollution or environmental accidents and disasters with cross-border consequences often negatively affect the relations between neighbouring states.
However, common problems regarding the use of natural resources may also bring people together in a positive manner. Communities and nations can build confidence with each other through joint efforts to improve the state and management of natural resources. Environmental cooperation can thereby act as an important tool for preventing conflicts and promoting peace between communities.
A platform for cooperation
The Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) is a partnership of five international organizations – the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Regional Environment Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – with specialized, but complementary mandates and expertise, that provides an integrated response to environment and security challenges. The mission of ENVSEC is to contribute to the reduction of environment and security risks through strengthened cooperation among and within countries in four regions: Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus, and South-Eastern Europe. In his speech at the Permanent Council of the OSCE in April 2010, the Secretary-General of the United Nations made a specific reference to ENVSEC: "In the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia, the United Nations and the OSCE are teaming up through the Environmental Security Initiative. These environmental challenges are extensive and varied, but solutions share a common denominator, and that is cooperation."
ENVSEC recognizes that the best way to address environmental and security concerns is through prevention, international dialogue and neighbourly cooperation. The Initiative assists governments and communities to identify common solutions and develop joint projects for achieving them, and facilitates dialogue and collaboration among policy makers, environmental experts, and the civil society across the borders, including national experts ministries and national agencies, as well as NGOs and research institutes.
Spotting shared benefits and solutions
The ENVSEC approach consists in four main steps:
- Assess the situation on the ground and map the problems ("hotspots") in a participatory way;
- Draw the attention of politicians and people to these "hotspots" and gain recognition and political support;
- Develop corresponding regional work programmes and project portfolios;
- Support concrete actions and catalyze specific solutions to address the identified and security concerns on the ground.
Enhanced products and services
The ENVSEC approach aims at achieving the following inter-related products:
1. Vulnerability assessments, early warning and monitoring of environment and security risks;
2. Improved capacities of national institutions for more effective environment and security policies, and stronger institutional dialogue;
3. Technical expertise and financial resources mobilized for clean-up and remediation;
4. Increased knowledge and awareness about the linkages between environment and security risks, and enhanced participation of interested actors in activities that aim at preventing and reducing these risks.