Center for Research on Environment, Human Security & Governance
The North-South Center for Social Sciences (NRCS) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), along with numerous partners (such as IRD and CWF), have successfully organized two international conferences on "The integration of sustainable agriculture, rural development and ecosystems in the context of food insecurity, climate change and the energy crisis" (2009), and on "Climate change, agri-food, fisheries and ecosystems: reinventing research, innovation and policy agendas for environmentally- and socially-balanced growth" (ICCAFFE2011). This series of worldwide scientific meetings, organized in Morocco and involving more than 300 delegates and 50 countries, is increasingly acknowledged as a distinguished multinational forum that provided an early focus on key "glocal" issues from an interdisciplinary and multidimensional approach and North-South / South-South perspectives. It is designed to bring together scientists, experts, policy-makers, practitioners, and non-state actors from key disciplines, institutions, companies and networks from all over the world to share research outcomes and relevant experiences; contribute to the setting of future science and policy agendas; and explore necessary networking with regard to their relevant debates. The two editions of the conference gave birth to high quality publications with a worldwide relevance and a substantial set of inputs for decision-making processes at various levels.
In order to sustain the debate within the current context and dynamics, the organizers are pleased to launch the third edition with a focus on the theme: "Global environmental change and human security: The need for a new vision for science, policy, and leadership (climate change as an opportunity)". This edition is expected to engage a broad range of audiences (academics from all relevant disciplines, key experts, policy makers, development agencies, business, civil society actors, etc.), and provide an update of the newest understanding of environmental change caused by current development models and schemes, human security implications of this change, and options available for different societies to respond to present and future challenges. Participants will consider how understandings and conceptions of security are being transformed in the face of global environmental change (with a focus on climate change), and how urgent a shift – in science, policy and leadership – is required to manage efficiently and prudently the current dynamics. The event will serve as a space to conceive this critically needed roadmap.
Since the Rio Summit in 1992, the sustainable development agenda has been transformed from global aspiration to human imperative. During this process, the obvious decline in the conditions of ecosystems has generated a global appreciation of the urgency to face environmental threats and related impacts. Today, the challenge presented by global environmental change is thoroughly documented through decades of world summits, transnational advocacy, and scholarly research. Despite these efforts we have not adequately addressed negative environmental and social outcomes as manifested by the climate change dilemma, the biodiversity extinction crisis, the ongoing crippling effects on human wellbeing of market failure, poverty, violence and war, along with water, energy, health and food security concerns.
As noted by the UN Secretary General’s report to the UN on Harmony with Nature: "The present technological age has seen an impoverishment in the historical relationship between human beings and nature. Nature has been treated as a commodity that exists largely for the benefit of people, and all environmental problems as solvable with a technological fix. Loss of biodiversity, desertification, climate change and the disruption of a number of natural cycles are among the costs of our disregard for nature and the integrity of its ecosystems and life-supporting processes. As recent scientific work suggests, a number of planetary boundaries are being transgressed and other risks being so in a business-as-usual world".
We know there will be more catastrophes in the future. But they will not always involve horrific headlines and images of hurricanes and tsunamis. More commonly, they will be cumulative and unspectacular. Slowly and incrementally, land will become too dry to till, crops will wither, rising sea levels will undermine coastal dwellings and spoil freshwater, species will continue to disappear, and livelihoods will vanish. Occasional cataclysms will exacerbate these trends. Also, global environmental change amplifies mechanisms that lead to insecurity and conflicts. This will result in destabilization and disintegration that can jeopardize national and international security to a new degree. It is already undermining the realization of a broad range of internationally protected human rights: rights to health and even life; rights to food, water, shelter and property; rights associated with livelihood, culture, migration, resettlement, and personal security in the event of conflict. These inter-linkages are deep and complex but the worst effects of environmental change are likely to be felt by those individuals and groups in the world’s poorest countries with resource-poor basis whose rights protection is already precarious. Since they are already vulnerable, they will be disproportionately affected. For instance, the most vulnerable to the global climate's harshest impacts (caused by richer developed countries or rich people in developed and developing countries), are the world's poorest people and the most human rights sensitive communities around the world. Climate change harms include, among others, health deterioration and even deaths from disease, droughts, floods, heat, and intense storms, damages to homes and villages from rising oceans, adverse impacts on agriculture, diminishing natural resources, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, and the destruction of water supplies.
There is little doubt now that global environmental change has serious development impacts, and seriously threatens the capacity of individuals and communities to fully realize their human rights. These impacts also place undue strains on nations to uphold their international human rights commitments. Thus, thinking about climate change from an ethical and human rights perspective is not only a fundamental necessity in terms of guiding our international development policy framework, but also offers us an invaluable opportunity to reappraise the most pressing needs of a highly inequitable global society, with greatly differing social, environmental and economic levels of development.
Nevertheless, we still take comfort in using reductionist approaches to the measurement and observation, and to the mitigation or resolution of problems; and, such approaches have served – and continue to serve – human inquiry and subsequent action relatively well. Yet, from such approaches we are reminded continually of the sheer complexity of the world around us. Arising from this growing recognition of the complexity of challenges, processes, and dynamics, there is corresponding growth in recognition of the need for an innovative/integrative vision. Such vision, based on science and technology – and on social dynamics – now look to include a wider complement of stakeholders that are enmeshed in taking decisions and in undertaking solutions under illuminated, participatory mindsets. It is possible to infuse significant momentum to this vision and related initiatives for action by the direct involvement of all stakeholders through an inclusive process. The role of stakeholders and leadership through well-informed action is central to this success. The conference therefore highlights the scope for leadership and way forward through strategically important partnership.
If the societal transformation required to meet the environmental change challenge is to be achieved, then a number of significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on environmental change; reducing activities with emission potential; developing resilience and adaptive capacities; and enabling a strong shift from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, private sector and civil society. Linking environmental change with broader sustainable consumption and production concerns, human rights issues, and inclusive decision-making processes is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.