Date: 29 Sep 2012

The use of “security” jargon in sustainable development discourse: evidence from UN Commission on Sustainable Development

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Abstract

The premise of discourse theory in environmental policy is that realities are shaped by language. One discourse that is gaining popularity is the concept of environmental security, a discourse that presupposes environmental threats as urgent. The attempt to cast environmental issues as security issues has resulted in the common use of security jargon, idioms, and metaphors in policymakers’ and politicians’ statements. Various analyses attempt to identify why natural resources are discussed in terms and language of security. However, far fewer studies have attempted to identify differences in the manner in which different types of resources are incorporated into such a discourse by different actors and what variables contribute to this process. This study examines the construction of the security references, security arguments, and language in the statements of the Commission on Sustainable Development dealing with energy and water. We found that international organizations and Non-governmental Organizations were somewhat more likely than state actors to use security references to discuss sustainability issues. The issues securitized are not the traditional high political ones such as regime stability and conflicts, but rather issues more associated with human security, such as access to renewable energy, affordable food, and clean water. The fact that in many statements examined the use of security references was not associated with any existential threat and hence did not comply with the conditions of the Copenhagen School raises some doubts as to whether security language in these statements implies a true securitization move. We also examined whether the use of the term “security” by states was correlated with greater resource scarcity or vulnerability. In the case of water-related sessions, the evidence was mixed, depending on the choice of dependent variable. The results from energy security regressions, however, were inconsistent with the hypothesis that greater scarcity or vulnerability induces more use of security language.