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Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters

As the largest and most populous continent, Asia is expected to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. In more traditional security literature, climate change has increasingly been documented as a threat multiplier, with the potential to overstretch societies’ adaptive capacity and create or exacerbate political instability and violence. The expectations have been that governments should work cooperatively to avoid the kinds of tensions that might result, particularly in the face of alleged competition for resources and the cross-border challenges associated with the emerging phenomenon of ‘climate refugees’. Consequently, there has been more focus on climate mitigation as a preventive strategy while less attention has been paid to the importance of adaptation and building social resilience for those communities and countries most affected by climate change.

However, adaptation is key to minimising vulnerabilities and building social resilience to the impact of climate change, which in turn will contribute to shaping regional security and stability. The emphasis on social resilience, as opposed to a focus on climate change as a threat multiplier, reflects a non-traditional security approach to the issue. Building social resilience is pertinent for communities that aim to cope with the changes caused by climate change. It also means that strategies for climate adaptation will require multi-level as well as multilateral approaches, involving not only governments but also regional institutions, local communities and non-governmental actors.

Objectives and Approach

An important component in the Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters Programme is the emphasis on a human security approach in examining current and projected risks as well as identifying ways to address them. This programme is looking at the significant linkages between state and social resilience, on the one hand, and regional climate security on the other. Integral to this analysis is examining regional ‘lessons learned’ in building social resilience in the face of climate change.

While scientific reports by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) have shown how various regions will be affected by climate change, there is a need to pursue a better understanding of the specific implications for the region so that targeted measures can be formulated. The complexities that come into play in these environmental insecurities are found in Southeast Asia. The region is comprised mostly of developing economies. Many countries are characterised by low lying coastal areas. Southeast Asia has also been regularly and adversely affected by natural disasters brought on by torrential rains and large-scale floods, and irregular weather patterns that increasingly bring on long periods of drought. Further, climate change is projected to create more ‘immediate’ risks for food, water and health security in the region.

The urgency of dealing with climate change has been highlighted by a number of scientists, research institutions, international bodies as well as policymakers. Yet, the global consensus on the gravity of the human security challenges posed by climate change is not matched by a consensus on how best to address this problem. Against the sharpening contours of Asian geopolitics, it is imperative to better understand the nature of social and human vulnerability and resilience. It is also imperative to examine state interactions in the region and the role of regional institutions in developing an effective approach to climate and environmental security, and disaster to management.

Programme Activities

First year

To kick-start the programme, the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies organised a conference on Climate Insecurities, Human Security and Social Resilience in Singapore from 27 to 28 August 2009. The conference aimed to come to a better understanding of the implications of climate change for Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia so that specific ‘climate security’ measures could be formulated. The objectives of this conference were to (1) introduce the project to an academic and policy audience; and (2) identify and explore the key themes that ‘set the scene’ for work to come, over the duration of the project. Bringing together reputable security and political analysts, economists and environmentalists, it examined climate change from a human security perspective at both national and regional levels.

A full report of concept papers and slide presentations presented, as well as video interviews conducted during the conference, can be found here. As a follow-up to the conference, Associate Professor Lorraine Elliott published an RSIS commentary titled ‘Human Security: A Response to the Climate Security Debates’.

As part of the Asia Security Initiative Policy Series, Associate Professor Lorraine Elliott explores in her working paper the human insecurities that are generated by climate change, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific. The paper also examines how human security models provide (1) different ways of interpreting climate conflict ‘triggers’ and (2) different and more effective strategies for responding to climate insecurity.

  • Edited book with the proposed title of ‘Human Security and Climate Change in Southeast Asia: Managing Risk and Resilience’ (Click here to read the abstracts)

Second Year

  • Conference on Climate Change and Food Security: Securing Asia Pacific’s Food Futures

Activities in the second year are focused on the issue of climate change and food security. Climate change is projected to aggravate existing pressure on food security in the Asia- Pacific. The agriculture sector is central to food security in the region and the negative consequences of climate change on agricultural production will in turn affect the availability, access, stability and utilisation of food, all of which are critical elements of food security. The food crises in 2007 and 2008 have shown that the security dimensions of food crises are complex, multi-scale and interconnected, and that they range across human security, economic security and national security. This complexity of security concerns has generated demands for strategic policy responses in agricultural productivity, disaster management, social protection and community-based development.

Moreover, because these are no longer simply local problems, food security requires effective policy responses that are supported and facilitated by regional cooperation. While there has been growth in regional activity under ASEAN, ASEAN Plus Three, and international bodies such as the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, there has been little systematic assessment of the coherence or fragmentation of regional responses, best practices, policy gaps, and their contribution to the human and national security dimensions of food scarcity. This conference aims to evaluate regional food security frameworks in the Asia-Pacific by taking an interdisciplinary and multilateral approach and bringing together regional experts from within academe, the policy community and civil society organisations. This conference is scheduled to be held in the third quarter of 2010 in Canberra, Australia.

  • Edited book on climate change and food security

An edited book will be published in addition to conference proceedings as a follow-up to the above-mentioned conference. The chapters in this book will cover key issues on both best practices and policy gaps in regional governance strategies for food security in relation to climate change, and provide appropriate and relevant recommendations for strengthening and enhancing cooperative arrangements. This book will be co-edited by Associate Professors Mely Caballero-Anthony and Lorraine Elliott and is expected to be published by the final quarter of 2011.

Third Year

In its third year, this programme will be looking at the issue of climate change and migration in the region. The UN estimates that there could be at least 200 million environmentally-induced migrants worldwide by the year 2050. However, claims about the security implications of climate migration need to be revisited both empirically and conceptually. As opposed to securitising the climate migration issue as an exacerbating factor to traditional security concerns such as conflict and war, the programme seeks to elaborate on a human security approach in analysing and responding to the potential insecurities generated by climate migration. Taking a different approach will demand alternative responses that should take into account a number of underlying vulnerabilities associated with the issue of climate migration such as food, livelihood, poverty, health, and disaster management. This project will look at how adaptation policies in the region will be able to address these challenges.

The Team

The research focus areas specified will be headed, respectively, by:

» Core Team

» Affiliated Team

  • Dr Arief Anshory Yusuf
    Senior Economist
    Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA)
  • Dr Bernadette P. Resurreccion
    Assistant Professor of Gender and Development Studies
    School of Environment, Resources and Development, Asian Institute of Technology Thailand
  • Dr Beverly Goh
    Assistant Professor
    Natural Sciences & Science Education
    National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
  • Professor Zha Daojiong
    School of International Studies, Peking University
  • Professor Devanathan Parthasarathy
    Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
    Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay
  • Professor Emil Salim
    Advisory Council to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of the Republic of Indonesia, as Adviser for environment and sustainable development issues
  • Dr Enrique Ibarra Gené
    Policy Researcher
    Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
  • Mr Fitrian Ardiansyah
    Programme Director, Climate and Energy Programme
    World Wildlife Fund Jakarta
  • Dr Henri Bastaman
    Deputy on Environmental Communication and Society's Empowerment
    Ministry of Environment
  • Dr Herminia A. Francisco
    Economy and Environment Programme for Southeast Asia
  • Mr John Pearson
    Head of the Southeast Asia Climate Change Network
    British High Commission
  • Dr Keokam Kraisoraphong
    Faculty of Political Science
    Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
  • Mr Masakazu Ichimura
    Chief, Environment and Development Policy Section
    UNESCAP, Bangkok
  • Professor Richard Tanter
    Nautilus Institute at RMIT University, Melbourne
  • Associate Professor Shreekant Gupta
    Associate Professor
    Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
  • Professor Tasneem Siddiqui
    Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit
    University of Dhaka


Posted on: 28/4/2010 4:22:33 PM  |  Topic: Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters

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