Ploughshares meets the challenge of our time with a new venture

September 18, 2023

By Cesar Jaramillo

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 44 Issue 3 Autumn 2023

We live in a time of unprecedented climate disruption. At Project Ploughshares, we recognize the need to engage with this multifaceted threat, which has profound implications for our mission to build sustainable peace. Thus, I am pleased to announce the genesis of a new initiative that we hope will become a permanent program area focused on the intersection of Climate, Peace, and Security.

A broad understanding of human security

This decision has been taken after extensive consultations. One constant source of advice and expertise has been Kenneth Epps, a former program officer with Ploughshares. The last issue of The Ploughshares Monitor featured an interview with Ken that explored some elements of his journey from monitoring conventional arms to tackling climate degradation. His insistence that climate breakdown is not simply an environmental concern but an existential threat requiring human counteraction resonates deeply with the mission of Project Ploughshares. Along with nuclear weapons, climate breakdown represents a direct threat to human civilization itself.

True and lasting peace must be based on the fulfilment of basic human needs and the nurturing of resilient societies.

For most of our history, Project Ploughshares has championed a broad and holistic understanding of human security that goes far beyond the resolution or avoidance of armed conflict. True and lasting peace must be based on the fulfilment of basic human needs and the nurturing of resilient societies.

While armed conflicts and both new and old technologies threaten peace and demand our persistent attention, we are coming to a fuller understanding of the ways in which they intersect with – and interact with – the climate emergency to threaten the foundations of a peaceful existence on Earth. The interconnectedness of climate change and global security demands further research and analysis.

Climate affects conflict

The world is witnessing with increasing frequency weather-related catastrophes. Wildfires, floods, extreme temperatures, and windstorms are altering the dynamics of our world and increasing human insecurity.

Climate change exacerbates resource scarcity, which can ignite conflicts among competing communities and nations.

Climate breakdown can trigger forced migration. Displaced populations then strain the often-limited resources of their host communities. In a new environment, traditional livelihoods and cultural identities come under increased threat. These ripple effects can amplify pre-existing tensions and contribute to conflict.

Climate disruptions intensify economic vulnerabilities, particularly in industries and endeavours that are climate-sensitive. All these factors can strain government and the rule of law, resulting in failed or fragile states.

The impact of climate change on military operations is already being felt. We witness its role in exacerbating tensions and fostering extremism.

And, while the potential exists to develop a cooperative response to shared environmental concerns, there is the risk that such adaptation measures will also foster further conflict, as competing interests vie for access to limited adaptation resources.

… and conflict affects climate

The emissions produced by military operations constitute a substantial contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Conventional warfare destroys entire ecosystems.

Furthermore, we must confront the potential environmental devastation resulting from an eventual nuclear detonation or exchange. The immediate and long-term ecological consequences of such an event are horrifying.

Proceeding with caution

The global security community is now acknowledging the complex intersections between climate and security. Various defence organizations are now openly viewing climate change as a security challenge and setting emission reduction targets.

Conventional warfare destroys entire ecosystems.

However, as the world gathers resources to tackle this complex challenge, it must guard against framing climate change solely as a security issue.

Such a definition could work against necessary collective action. Overemphasis on military solutions could divert resources from sustainable programs and undermine possible peaceful resolutions.

What is needed is a holistic approach that balances security concerns with environmental imperatives and opportunities for peacebuilding. Climate action and the pursuit of peace must be aligned.

A strategy for Project Ploughshares

In establishing the Climate, Peace, and Security program, Project Ploughshares envisions a strategic sequence of actions.

First and foremost, we intend to engage motivated interns in a comprehensive literature review, delving into the intricate linkages between climate change, peace, and security. This process will serve as a foundational step in consolidating existing knowledge and shaping our program’s focus.

Simultaneously, we are committed to forging connections with likeminded organizations and experts, in Canada and beyond, that are already actively addressing related issues. Collaborative efforts will not only enrich our understanding but also foster a network of collective insights and approaches.

Without question, financial support is critical in transforming our vision into a tangible reality. Thus, our next step involves seeking funding from those who share our commitment to promoting global peace through climate resilience. This support will not only sustain the program’s activities but also contribute to its growth and evolution. We have made an excellent start in this regard, as one of our supporters has already pledged seed funding. We extend our grateful thanks for that initial support and all that we trust will follow.

With the goal of establishing a dedicated and permanent staff position exclusively focused on Climate, Peace, and Security, we will work diligently to secure the necessary resources. This new position will underscore our commitment to weave climate considerations into the fabric of peace-and-security discourse, so that critical connections are understood and evaluated appropriately.

Project Ploughshares intends to draw inspiration and insight from a diversity of voices, each contributing unique insights into the challenges and opportunities before us. As we navigate these uncharted waters, we invite you, our donors, supporters, and partners, to travel with us. Together, even in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can reshape the conversation around climate, peace, and security – and make steady progress to a more secure world.

A new global focus

The intricate relationship between climate, peace, and security requires a holistic and collaborative approach involving governments, nongovernment and international organizations, and local communities.

Canada, with its vast expanse, must play a pivotal role. The Canadian government’s response should begin with a fundamental shift in priorities. Resources should be reallocated from short-sighted combat programs to initiatives that address the multidimensional security impact of climate change. Such an operation will include redirecting military spending to missions that contribute to peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and climate adaptation efforts.

As the world pivots toward a sustainable future, acknowledging and mitigating the environmental impact of military activities become essential. Canada’s defence sector can become a leader in adopting sustainable practices.

We must all become stewards of peace. At Project Ploughshares, we continue to do our part to meet the challenge of this time.

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