The 2021 Ecological Threat Report by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) has analysed the correlation between ecological threats, resilience and peace. The main finding is that the most vulnerable countries in the world, home to 1.26 billion people across 30 countries, are suffering from both extreme ecological risk and low levels of resilience.

The 2021 Ecological Threat Report, released October 7th 2021, is the second edition of an annual report published by the IEP, a global think tank specialised in quantifying the economic costs of violence and informing the global conversation on peace. 

The report looked at 178 independent states and territories, covering 99.9% of the world’s population.  Countries were assessed by their exposure to ecological risks and their resilience. The ETR determines which countries are facing the most severe threats and have the lowest ability to cope. In an interview with Earth.Org, IEP founder Steve Killelea explains that the Ecological Threat Report “explores the relationship between ecological shocks and conflict, and what we find is that interconnection is really quite profound.”

The ecological threats addressed in the report include food risk, water risk, rapid population growth, temperature anomalies and natural disasters. It was found that the countries most vulnerable to these threats and with the lowest level of socio-economic resilience were the most likely to descend into further instability and ecological threat-related conflict.

Ecological degradation can therefore act as a primary driver of conflict, and can impede countries from reaching a state of Positive Peace, a vision of peace that includes attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, rather than the simple absence of fear or violence.

Findings of the Report

The main findings from the report include:

The countries most vulnerable to ecological risks are located in hotspots that will see threats grow tremendously over the upcoming decades. For instance, 11 countries, all in Sub-Saharan Africa, are expected to double their populations between 2021 and 2050, placing significant stress on resource availability in the region. Global demand for food is also expected to increase by 50% by 2050, and by 2040 over 5.4 billion people will live in countries with extreme water stress.

The Ecological Threat Report is relatively unique in the way it discusses climate change in terms of its ecological threats. Climate change, while a pressing concern, does not pose the highest risk to vulnerable countries now. It is these direct ecological threats that need to be addressed in the more immediate term. Climate change is and will, however, act as an amplifier of these aforementioned ecological threats, accelerating their scale and aggravating their impact as global temperatures rise.

The report emphasises the link between ecological degradation and conflict, comparing it to a vicious and self-reinforcing cycle wherein degradation of resources leads to conflict, and the ensuing conflict leads to further resource degradation. The only way to break this cycle is to build socio-economic resilience and adaptability to improve resource management and encourage economic growth.

Policy Recommendations

The report puts forward several policy recommendations to alleviate stresses and potentially break this cycle for good. These include building more integrated developmental agencies that combine all these ecological threats in their considerations of strategies in high-risk areas. This would make organisations more agile, simplified and efficient in carrying out chains of command and managing resources. 

Another proposed solution is to empower local communities to lead their own development and security-building initiatives. This includes starting businesses and taking private, local ownership of supply chains and resources. The report finds that exceptional success has been had where communities leveraged their strong local ties to build business cooperatives which can pool resources and minimise individual costs.

The report also sees high promise where businesses are founded that engage in purposefully positive ecological investments. These businesses are best run by local communities and are small in scale, emphasising on local knowledge and traditional resource management techniques. 

The developmental challenges created by the vicious cycle between ecological degradation and conflict emerge from systemic dynamics, but right now we are not applying the right solutions. “A lot of these problems are systemic in nature, but we don’t go about using systemic solutions.” Steve told us, going on to say that, “to get a full understanding of the problem, you need a systemic perspective, and we don’t do enough of that at the moment.”

Building societal resilience, and ensuring that local communities are enabled to build and sustain their own profitable and ecologically positive economies, are all systemic solutions. Current developmental and international strategies are not ideally equipped to do so, but more integrated and interdisciplinary agencies could provide more responses for vulnerable countries facing increasingly complex sets of ecological threats.