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Last Updated: 12/09/2015
Three Approaches to the Human Security Risk of Climate Change
Rafael Lindau

There is no single factor capable of producing violence independently (Guzman, 2013, p. 134), but many things can amplify tensions and lower the threshold that conflict must cross before erupting into violence. One such tension amplifier that is on its way to global entrenchment is climate change. For example, Andrew Guzman (2013) suggests that climate change precipitated the conflict in Darfur similarly to how the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand brought ethnic tensions to the tipping point resulting in the First World War (p. 136). In Darfur, he explains (2013), relations between the fur farmers and the Arab nomads had historically been contentious, yet manageable. The average rainfall levels had been decreasing since the 1960’s, coming to a head in a drought that began in 1984 (Guzman, 2013, p. 137). Subsequent to the drought, ethnic tensions began a rapid escalation and culminated in horrific violence that devastated the country and destabilized the region (Guzman, 2013, pp. 137-138). While the role of the drought in the escalation of the conflict is undeniable, the responsibility of climate change for the drought is less obviously apparent (Guzman, 2013). Regardless of the cause of the drought, however, it remains a clear illustration of the risk climate changes poses to human security. Moreover, Guzman (2013) estimates that climate change was indeed responsible for the drought. In this paper, I will construct potential ‘solutions’ to the problem of global climate change within the theoretical frameworks of hegemonic peace, liberal peace, and cosmopolitan peace. This will serve the dual purpose of fleshing out their discursive potentials and providing bases for comparison


“Unless Americans … see again how their fate is entangled with that of the world then the prospects of for a peaceful twenty-first century in which Americans and American principles can thrive will be bleak” (Kagan, 2014).

The discourse of hegemonic peace permits two broad approaches to dealing with problem of climate change – preparation and prevention. First, even though the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, hegemonic peace is built upon the double standard of American exceptionalism. Therefore, hegemonic peace must be reinforced against the destabilizing potential of climate change. Hegemonic military power must expand to keep up with the multiplication of flashpoints around the world due to climate change. After all, the more prone the world becomes to violence, the more it will need a hegemon to enforce peace and maintain order. This may require the further securitization of oil producing regions, especially those in the Middle East because of the regions already high volatility (Guzman, 2013). The region already suffers water scarcity, and once tensions reach a boiling point it may become necessary for the United States to intervene for the sake of world order, as it did in Iraq towards the end of the 90’s (Guzman, 2013; Kagan, 2014).

At present, American hegemony is in a double bind because, ceteris paribus, military expansion will exacerbate and hasten the problem of climate change due to the military’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels. If the United States downsizes its military in order to stave off climate change, then it will reduce its capacity to promote hegemonic peace, and “greening” the military is easier said than done. Thus, if climate change is to be averted or managed, then the rest of world must reduce its emissions to levels that allow the hegemon to continue business as usual. Consequently countries without the capacity for substantial innovation will be left with the ultimatum of peace or production.

In the context of neoliberal peace, states are still the primary actors but the challenge is to “find a balance between the needs of good internal governance and the requirements of an ever more interdependent world” (Boutros-Ghali, 1992, p. 9). Thus neoliberal peace is achieved through the processes of development and democratization (Baylis, 2001). First, as countries develop they become better able to afford more expensive industries and manufacturing practices that are more environmentally friendly. In the United States, for example, the organic food and Fairtrade industries are priced for middle-class consumers. The assumption is that once their basic needs are met, people will direct their attention to less immediate problems, like the environment (Roberts, 2003). Furthermore, capitalist development democratizes citizens, predisposing them against war because it is costly and benefits a select few (Doyle).

Similarly, capitalist democracy should predispose citizens against climate change and the industrial practices that fuel it. It should be no easier to convince citizens of a capitalist democracy to go to work in industries destroying the planet than to convince them to fight an expansionist war that does not benefit them (Doyle). Simply put, democratic capitalism encourages people to organize in the best interest of humankind (Doyle). And when states misstep, international institutions are there to guide them back to the right path (Baylis, 2001). Thus, though certain types of development can foment risk climate change and the associated scarcities and disasters, wealthy democratic states are better equipped to respond peacefully and to devise constructive, mutually beneficial solutions. Besides, for those with access to investment capital, the current energy crisis is indicative of the space for economic growth within green industries.

The discourse of cosmopolitan peace calls for global solutions to global problems, as opposed to international solutions to global problems. It is based on global citizenship paired with global responsibility. However, despite its concern for universality, it is not a doctrine of global homogeneity. In fact, cosmopolitan law “lays out a framework of reciprocal rights and obligations that pertain to all individuals irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, social status, or religious beliefs – rights to which each is entitled and which each is pledged to respect, as ‘citizens of the world’” (Sanders, 2010, p. 498). Thus a cosmopolitan approach to climate change must allow actors to maintain their individuality while working in concert against a common problem. This approach privileges humanity over authority (Kaldor, 2003).

Acute cosmopolitan actions to combat climate change could include transnational lobbying and protesting. The United States and China may be two of the largest emitters of greenhouses gases, but much of their fossil fuel use is for export goods and services, like Chinese manufactured goods and US military operations abroad. Pressure may also be applied locally to intervene in domestic perpetuation of the climate crisis. For example, citizens could organize against nonrenewable power programs or the outsourcing of manufacturing to countries with less strict environmental regulation. In the long term, however, it may be addressed by broader based movements toward renewable energy stemming local desires for energy sovereignty. Additionally, transnational resource management may be implemented.


The discourse of hegemonic peace features an outdated focus on nations as the smallest unit of measurement and contrived national hegemonic interests that are privileged over human security and liberty. First, Guzman (2013) does a good job identifying the international tensions caused by water scarcity in regions where this valuable resource is found most significantly in transnational waterways. Given that intra-state conflict has become more prevalent than inter-state conflict and that global climate change will increase water scarcity, it is not inconceivable that the world will see more Darfurs, if the current trend continues unabated. Second, in the hegemonic discourse (Kagan, 2014), the democratic nation is reified for the benefit of an elite minority whose interests are portrayed as the nation’s interests. Thus, popular domestic interests are either enlightened, if they mirror elite interests, or unenlightened, if they do not. This attitude is also directed outward, to the effect that nations supportive of American hegemony are peaceful and nations who oppose it are belligerent (Herman, 1988). Third, in matters of hegemonic security, human security and liberty are sidelined in the (sometimes fruitless) pursuit of ‘national’ interests. At best one could argue that some instances require structural violence to prevent direct violence, as in the case of surveillance as a tool of homeland security. At worst physical violence is merely translated (if not initiated) in order to protect the state from individuals, as in the case of extrajudicial detention and torture.

The neoliberal peace discourse employs the same state-centric discourse as hegemonic peace, but differs in that it overestimates the capacity (or perhaps inclination) of international institutions – instead of the hegemon – to keep order and serve humanity. First, the international institutions that characterize the neoliberal peace model, such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and others, primarily acknowledge the agency of states and lucky bidders for statehood. Furthermore, government malfeasance does not automatically preclude its leadership from international recognition, support, and loans from these institutions. In fact, national debt accrued through a head of state’s abuse of power is rarely cancelled once the corruption comes to light, even if the leader is forced out of office. Second, social contract theory (Locke, 1988), one of the theoretical bases of global governance, is predicated on a practically equal balance of power among actors, but the modern international system is characterized by imbalances of power. In this context, mutual submission to a social contract occurs as a means of ensuring mutual security. However, modern neoliberal institutions are insufficient to ensure human security, as evidenced by the propensity of the American hegemon to evade their authority and by the institutions’ propensity to support leaders who disregard human security.

Finally, cosmopolitan peace acknowledges shifting loci of power and transcends traditional state-centric discourse, but its capacity to address problems of maleficent hegemony is uncertain. First, in the cosmopolitan peace discourse, people are the primary agents and loci of power. In addition to supporting more democratic democracies, this discourse also allows for a more complete understanding of a world increasingly dominated by non-state actors – both corporations and militants. It also privileges human security over institutional and national security, which some would consider a more ethical standpoint. What remains to be determined, however, is whether or not cosmopolitan peace can overcome hegemonic violence.


Baylis, J., & Smith, S. (2001). The globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Doyle, M. (n.d.). Liberal Internationalism: Peace, War and Democracy. Liberal Internatinalism: Peace, War and Democracy. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: the political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kagan, R. (2014, May 26). Superpowers Don't Get to Retire: What Our Tired Country Still Owes the World. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from

Kaldor, M. (2003). Social Movements, NGOs and Networks. Global civil society: an answer to war (pp. 78-108). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press ;.

Locke, J., & Laslett, P. (1988). Two treatises of government (Student ed.). Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, J. T., & Thanos, N. D. (2003). Trouble in paradise: globalization and environmental crises in Latin America. New York: Routledge.

Sanders, J. (2010). Cosmopolitanism as a Peace Theory. The Oxford international encyclopedia of peace (pp. 497-501). Oxford: Oxford University Press.