In This Article Environmental Security

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Environmental Security and Human Security
  • Environmental Cooperation, Conflict and Refugees
  • Emerging Trends—Climate Security

Environmental Science Environmental Security
Christopher A. Scott, Bhuwan Thapa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0012


Environmental security, as a subset of broader concerns over human security, is addressed from the disciplinary perspectives of international relations, political science, geography, development studies, and environmental studies. The concept of environmental security views ecological processes and natural resources as sources or catalysts of conflict, barriers or limits to human well-being, or conversely, as the means to mitigate or resolve insecurity. Security over natural resources—particularly energy and increasingly water—seen in terms of territorial control, treaty arrangements, and trade agreements (including the application of economic instruments) over production and conveyance of resources to demand locations, has tended to frame the analysis in international relations and political science. While spatial and transboundary concerns over resources continue to occupy geographers, attention in the field of geography is drawn increasingly to social equity and environmental justice dimensions of resource use and outcomes. Development studies focused on emerging economies and societies in rapid transition addresses environmental security in terms of differential national or regional access to resources and impacts, e.g., associated with pollution, deprivation, etc. And among other points of concern, environmental studies addresses environmental security in terms of local, intra-household, and gender-differentiated access to water, energy, and food as well as outcomes such as public health, nutrition, and quality of life. While the term environmental security has existed since at least the 1980s, its prominence in academic and political circles rose significantly after the 1994 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme, which formulated the broadly accepted concept of human security. This report identified environmental security together with economic, food, health, personal, community, and political security as core components of human security. Since the 1990s, the definition and scope of environmental security have broadened to include multiple subsets, including food security, energy security, and water security, as well as emerging notions of adaptation and resilience to hazards, e.g., climate security, and all of these are referred to in this article. No attempt is made to treat the broad and ever-widening field of environmental security exhaustively. The principal aims are to trace the evolution of security discourses, consider securitization of the environment and natural resources, and assess new conceptions of environmental security in the context of global change. This work is funded by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a charitable foundation helping to protect life and property by supporting engineering-related education, public engagement, and the application of research.

General Overviews

After the end of the Cold War in 1990, the term security was expanded to include economic, environmental, and human securities, which can affect state stability but more broadly are determinants of human well-being. An early, influential piece, Ullman 1983 distinguishes human security (as access to, and enjoying the benefits of, quality of life) from state security (as strategic control over threats—real or perceived—as well as resources). Allenby 2000, Rwabizambuga 2007, and Swanström 2010 demonstrate that security had conventionally been associated with military and state power to ensure sovereignty, stability, and peace as well as to pursue armed conflict. As noted in the introduction, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 1994 has been instrumental in advancing the human dimensions of security. In its broadened conceptualization, environmental security views ecological processes (anthropogenically influenced or not) as well as natural resources (water, land, forests, fisheries, etc.) as direct or contributing factors that cause or induce conflict and insecurity. Detraz 2009 discusses three linkages between environment and security: (1) environmental degradation directly or collaterally inducing conflict, (2) environmental degradation exerting negative impacts on human security, and (3) ecological security, in which human activities pose negative impacts on the environment. Trombetta 2008 and Graeger 1996 provide an overview of different perspectives on environmental security. These articles discuss seminal work on environmental conflict, military and environmental security, environmental cooperation, a human-security approach to environmental security, and climate security.

  • Allenby, Braden R. 2000. Environmental security: Concept and implementation. International Political Science Review 21.1: 5–21.

    DOI: 10.1177/0192512100211001E-mail Citation »

    Allenby develops an analytical framework to support the evolution of the environmental security concept into operational programs by separating environmental security into four components: resource, energy, environmental, and biological securities.

  • Detraz, Nicole. 2009. Environmental security and gender: Necessary shifts in an evolving debate. Security Studies 18.2: 345–369.

    DOI: 10.1080/09636410902899933E-mail Citation »

    Exploring the linkages between environmental security and gender, Detraz explains three components that link environment and security: environmental conflict, environmental security, and ecological security. The paper focuses on linkages between environmental security and gender and provides concrete examples of gender roles in resource management.

  • Graeger, Nina. 1996. Environmental security? Journal of Peace Research 109–116.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022343396033001008E-mail Citation »

    Graeger studies the conceptual and methodological value of the “environmental security” concept. The paper analyzes the concept of “securitizing” environment through military measure and its trans-nationalization role through international treaties.

  • Rwabizambuga, Alexis. 2007. Environmental security and development. Conflict, Security & Development 7.1: 201–225.

    DOI: 10.1080/14678800601176618E-mail Citation »

    Rwabizambuga argues that the linkage between human and environmental securities and development is strong in developing countries where human security is closely tied to natural resources. The author supports this theory with examples of resource management in African countries.

  • Swanström, Niklas. 2010. Traditional and non-traditional security threats in central Asia: Connecting the new and the old. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 8.2: 35–51.

    E-mail Citation »

    The study analyzes the interaction between traditional threats (military conflict, terrorism) and nontraditional ones (illicit drug trade) in Central Asia. It also provides a historical evaluation of how nontraditional security, such as environmental, food, and economic securities, has influenced national security in the region.

  • Trombetta, Maria Julia. 2008. Environmental security and climate change: Analysing the discourse. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 21.4: 585–602.

    DOI: 10.1080/09557570802452920E-mail Citation »

    The paper provides a useful overview of different schools of thought on environmental security and how these discourses evolved over time in different disciplines. The author discusses the theory of securitization, which emphasizes the logic of war applied to sectors from which it has been excluded. Concerning securitization of the environment, the debate shifts from the traditional logic of security, which is based on emergency and contingency, to a logic of prevention and management.

  • Ullman, Richard H. 1983. Redefining security. International Security 8.1: 129–153.

    DOI: 10.2307/2538489E-mail Citation »

    The paper attempts to broaden the concept of national security to include nonmilitary forms of security, such as the environment. Advanced countries could face nonmilitary threats due to socioeconomic and political disruptions in developing countries or changes in demand and supply of natural resources in developing regions induced by population and economic growth.

  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 1994. Human development report 1994. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The seminal report proposes a new paradigm for sustainable development through a framework of human security, which emphasizes the safety of human beings from chronic threats, such as hunger, lack of sanitation, and diseases, and from sudden and harmful disruptions in patterns of life. The report identifies environmental security, which is concerned with minimizing environmental threats posed by water scarcity, air pollution, natural disasters, and deforestation, as one of the seven categories of human security.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.