On the Horizon 2021 | Environmental Change and Security
Here are three things to watch in environmental change and security in 2021.
Climate policy is foreign policy
Climate change will upend the 21st century world order. From financial systems, migration patterns, and great power competition, to the potential unintended consequences of climate responses, and issues of inequity and the future of democracy, climate change will penetrate our systems, our relationships, and our lives in ways that have yet to be fully understood. Climate policy cuts across portfolios and demands an all-hands-on-deck response. Diplomacy must raise climate ambition, shape the transformative systems needed for change, and promote and facilitate new modes of multilateral collaboration. We will require agility from financial institutions and trade partners as they craft new supply chains and alternative migration pathways, unpack decarbonization and its impacts, and, perhaps most importantly, create new modes of cooperation.
Unpack Connections Between COVID-19, Ecosystems, Public Health, and Security
COVID-19 has revealed deep connections between wildlife, the environment, public health, and human security. Much of the world was caught unprepared, but the pandemic is no surprise to experts who have sounded the alarm for decades. A few years ago, epidemiologists at the World Health Organization coined the term “Disease X” for it. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025 Report (written in 2008) included an eerily accurate description of how such a pandemic might begin. The threats posed by animal-borne infectious diseases are accelerating. And while approximately 70 percent of these diseases originate with the wildlife trade, these zoonotic diseases are linked increasingly to environmental change, human behavior, and demographic changes. Understanding the underlying risks that created conditions for COVID-19 to emerge, and the systemic failures to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus, are essential to address the current crisis—and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Time of COVID-19
COVID-19 has exposed what many in the WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) community have long known: access to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation is critical to human health and economic prosperity. Even before the pandemic took hold, more than 2 billion people around the world lacked access to safe water, and the leading cause of death for children under five is preventable diseases caused by poor access to WASH. At first, the importance of WASH made its way into headlines, but attention has waned as the pandemic has spread. Competing priorities in response and recovery, low revenues and increased costs faced by service providers, and a growing global economic crisis have undermined essential financing. The implications of COVID-19 on WASH’s financing and availability are clear. To respond to the world’s most urgent challenges fairly and equitably, we need trusted information, clear context, and solutions-focused dialogue.
About the Authors
Lauren Herzer Risi
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba, PhD
Associate Professor of International Studies, Rhodes College; Global Fellow, Wilson Center
Former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environmental Security)
Environmental Change and Security Program
The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy. Read more