Resources & Climate
Project Note

Environmental Security February News Update

Updates on global environmental security challenges and the efforts to tackle them
By Blake Ratcliff Co-Author ·  Jack Stuart Co-Author ·  Sally Yozell Co-Author

Featured News

Legitimizing Myanmar’s Timber Industry, and the Military’s Power

A mere two days after the military coup in Myanmar, the Myanmar Forest Products and Timber Merchants Association (MFPTMA), an organization with close ties to the military regime, issued a statement claiming that its timber was now in full compliance with EU Timber Regulations and international sustainability standards. The NGO Environmental Investigation Agency, swiftly condemned the MFPTMA’s actions noting that corruption has long riddled Myanmar’s timber industry, including ties to the military, and that any actions by international organizations and civil society to raise the standards of Myanmar’s timber industry would now be impossible to implement because of its relationship with military rule.

Human Rights Watch has called for targeted sanctions against the military and affiliated sectors, and the U.S., UK, and EU have issued sanctions against current and former Myanmar military leaders, and the U.S. sanctions also targets entities with close ties to the military. However, experts note that targeted sanctions may  not exert enough meaningful pressure on Myanmar’s generals or stem  corruption in the  timber industry.

Analysts have highlighted how the coup is deeply unpopular with its people and lacks legitimacy, especially given the overwhelming victory achieved by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in November’s elections. The military regime’s alignment with the MFPTMA could be viewed as a way to legitimize their power, as well as an opportunity to expand markets and revenue at the expense of real sustainable timber management for Myanmar.

Protection for Those Protecting Land and Wildlife 

Only two months into the new year, the world so far has seen a spate of violence against environmentalists including the murder of conservation and parrot biologist, Gonzalo Cardona Monina in Columbia, the killing of nine Filipino indigenous leaders who opposed local dam projects, and the slaughter of six park rangers on patrol in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Reports published by Global Witness indicate that these killings are part of a growing trend. In 2009, Global Witness recorded the killings of 48 environmental activists worldwide in land-related disputes. Their most recent report, from 2019, recorded 212 deaths. The majority of these murders were the result of environmental conflicts over mining, agriculture, and logging interests.

As the world’s population and standard of living continues to grow, ecosystems and biodiversity are under pressure and in decline. Companies, corrupt governments, and criminal networks seeking to benefit from the extraction of natural resources have increasingly clashed with those looking to protect land and resources. The international conservation community, long concerned about the human-wildlife conflict, may need to increase their work to include the threat of human-to-human conflict, and better understand the roles that different actors play in perpetuating violence against conservationists, as well as design new strategies to safeguard both the conservationists and the natural resource at stake.

Himalayan Glacier Collapse Causes Destruction, Tragedy, and a Glimpse into the Future

On February 7, a catastrophic flood, largely believed to have been caused by a burst glacial lake, buried the Rishiganga hydroelectric power project in India’s Himalayas under tons of ice and rock and left dozens dead and nearly 150 missing. Experts had long warned of the risks posed to the series of small hydroelectric dams in the region, and the need for an effective early warning system. Recent studies have shown that Himalayan glacial melt has accelerated over previous decades, stressing the need for increased security measures.

Heroic rescuers worked around the clock to clear away debris and open tunnels clogged with rocks and earth where workers were expected to be. According to reports, quick action by the rescuers saved 16 people, but efforts have turned into a recovery operation as many are still missing.

Yet while glacial bursts may be the most conspicuous impact of Himalayan glacial melt, the long-term impacts to water security will be far more severe. As climate change accelerates, glacial melt, and the resulting water that supplies regional rivers, will become far less reliable in a region facing booming populations and a rising demand for water. These factors, compounded by poor water management, could easily give rise to widespread social unrest if not properly managed. International tensions could rise as well, including heightened geopolitical friction between India, China, and Pakistan who rely on glacier water supplied to the region’s critical transnational rivers, exacerbating the already-tense situation between these nuclear powers.

In Case You Missed It

Natural Capital as a Cause for Growth, and Concern

A landmark study by economist Partha Dasgupta makes the economic case for biodiversity. Natural capital such as clean air and fertile soil, though crucial for growth and prosperity, is rarely valued in the same way as human capital and infrastructure. By overlooking the role nature plays in economic activity, the risks associated with environmental degradation are underestimated. It makes a strong case for valuing nature to ensure the demand we place on nature do not exceed its supply.

New Online Resource to Promote Sustainable Small-Scale Fishing

The Small-Scale Fisheries Resource and Collaboration Hub (SSF Hub) was launched to provide a multilingual, interactive, and online platform to connect small-scale fishers around the world with information and opportunities for collaboration. The platform, developed by the Environmental Defense Fund, Oceana, and WWF, aims to help implement the United Nations Fisheries and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. These guidelines focus on supporting the food and economic security of small-scale fishers and their fishing communities.

UNFAO’s COFI closes with the release of a Declaration on Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

The 34th meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO)’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) ended with the release of its COFI Declaration on Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture. The Declaration honors the 25th anniversary of the UNFAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and aims to build on existing international instruments that promote sustainable fisheries and aquaculture while stressing the need to protect against climate impacts. The Declaration was unanimously endorsed by conference participants, with hope that  more concrete steps will be taken by states to support sustainable fishing, including broader implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement.

Ecological Disruption Highlighted as Underappreciated Security Threat in Landmark Report

The Council on Strategic Risks released a report in February which highlighted the security implications of ecological disruption. From the transformation of the biosphere, to ecosystems shifting to new baseline states, the report offers eight main recommendations. Those relevant to the U.S. include ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, strengthening international alliances to assert global environmental and climate leadership, and revamping its national security architecture and doctrines to better combat these modern threats.

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