This research study emanates from the inclusion of environmental risks on the global security agenda. Although dating back to the Rio Summit on Environment and Development (UNEP, 1992), this trend gained momentum following the publication of the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February 2007 (IPCC, 2007a). The report warned that the global climate system is changing mainly because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, exposing, amongst others, Africa as a continent most vulnerable to the impact of climate variability and change. Subsequent to the report, the security implications of climate change were discussed by the United Nations Security Council in April 2007 (UN, 2007a). With these developments as a point of departure, the aim of this exploratory study is to investigate the securitisation of environmental risks, particularly the impact of climate change, in South Africa, with specific reference to official perceptions of (and where applicable, policy responses to) environmental security between 2007 and 2012.
As a literature and documentary case study on South Africa, the research utilises a conceptual framework that broadens and deepens the concept of security to include the environment as a non-traditional (non-military) aspect. In this context, environmental risks are discussed as a challenge to security, considering their contemporary relevance. Environmental security is discussed as an emerging security issue in the context of its global and regional scope; its linkage to and impact on food, water and energy security; and its influence on the political, economic, and social sectors of security. Further, the study indicates that Southern Africa in general, and South Africa in particular, are highly vulnerable to the impact of environmental risks such as climate change; and that such risks indeed exacerbate existing security risks and threats.
Against this backdrop, the South African government’s securitisation (or lack of securitisation) of the environment is described and explored with reference to official views on environmental security. The analysis indicates that the Government securitises environmental risks such as climate change to a limited degree only (in terms of securitising speech and act); and the issue thus does not fall within the ambit of security, but rather that of sustainable development. The Government base their unsecuritised stance on the impact of environmental risks, on the country’s basic natural resources (such as food, water and energy) being overwhelmed by existing growth pressures; and that the Administration’s current priority is inter alia social development issues, such as employment and poverty eradication.
The study concludes with a summary of key findings in response to the stated research problem, and with recommendations concerning the South African government’s response to environmental security.