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The Security of Cities

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The Atlantic Council

Environmental security, which focuses mainly on conflict arising from resource scarcity, control over natural resources, and environmental degradation, historically has focused much attention on the rural poor in the developing world. Yet the rural poor are neither the primary cause of rising global demand for natural resources nor of environmental degradation.

The culprits are people who live in cities. The collective behavior of billions of urbanites is the main reason why fossil fuels are mined from the ground, coastal mangroves are turned into fish farms, and the Earth’s atmosphere is changing.Report author Peter Engelke, senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative and former visiting fellow of the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program, contends that because the environmental security field historically has treated cities as little more than an afterthought, their significance has been both poorly understood and badly transmitted to policymakers.

The report’s central conclusion is that overcoming the twenty-first century’s sustainability challenges will require placing cities at the center rather than the periphery of both our understanding and our policymaking. Only by doing so can we avoid the worst-case security implications of global ecosystem decline.

“Given the swift pace and enormous scale of urbanization, cities must become an increasingly important part of the foreign and security policy discussion,” writes Engelke. “Urbanization intersects with multiple issues within the environmental security arena, including food security, energy security, climate change, fresh water use, public health and disease, and natural disaster planning and relief. It also intersects with more traditional foreign and security issues.”

The Security of Cities
Ecology and Conflict
on an Urbanizing Planet
Peter Engelke, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
Strategic Foresight Initiative
Atlantic Council
October 2013

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