There is an urgent need to understand how a range of emerging ecological challenges could trigger catastrophic instability and insecurity, argues a new report published today by SIPRI in a press release titled "Poorly understood environmental trends could become tomorrow’s security threats ".
Named, "Five Urgent Questions on Ecological Security," the report is co-authored by Dan Smith, SIPRI Director, and Rod Schoonover, CEO of the Ecological Futures Group and the former Director of Environment and Natural Resources at the US National Intelligence Council.
The report highlights the major knowledge gaps surrounding five categories of ecological disruption and their implications for security:
The accelerated spread of antimicrobial resistant pathogens due to pollution, rising temperatures and other factors The physiological and behavioural consequences of pollution
The weakening and loss of natural systems that enable life and support human well-being Local and regional ecological ‘tipping points’ The proliferation of harmful organisms and invasive species ‘We urgently need to understand more about how these ecological phenomena—which are themselves poorly understood—could impact society,’ said report co-author Dan Smith.
Each of these could have profound effects on public health. For example, antimicrobial resistance is already leading to the emergence of untreatable ‘superbugs’ and could ultimately make life-saving antibiotics ineffective.
This could expose societies to new health crises and roll medical science back to the pre-antibiotic era. As the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated, challenges in the realm of public health can have far-reaching and even destabilizing social, economic and political repercussions.
‘The security of people and nations is inextricably tied to the biosphere, which ecologists tell us is in dire shape,’ said Rod Schoonover. ‘It is crucial for the scientific and security communities to work together to understand the ramifications of ecological disruption, including—and well beyond—climate change.’
The authors stress that uncertainty and knowledge gaps should galvanize rather than delay both research and action to prevent, mitigate or adapt to consequences that could be catastrophic.
‘If we identify a potential risk, is it really a good idea to wait until we have proof when disaster strikes before we take action?’ said Dan Smith.