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Environmental Change and GlobalizationDouble Exposures$

Robin Leichenko and Karen O'Brien

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195177329

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195177329.001.0001

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Human Security in an Era of Global Change

Human Security in an Era of Global Change

(p.104) 8 Human Security in an Era of Global Change
Environmental Change and Globalization

Robin M. Leichenko

Karen L. O'Brien

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines current efforts to address the challenges associated with global change process, and discusses the limitations of addressing each process in isolation. It first draws attention to the ways that current interventions intended to reduce outcome differentials, decrease vulnerability; and change the processes may miss some important interactions between global environmental change and globalization. The chapter emphasizes the need for integrated responses that recognize both the interactions between the two processes and the linkages between outcomes, contexts, and feedbacks. The double exposure framework shows that there is nothing inevitable about processes and outcomes of global change. Human decisions, values, and behaviors drive global change processes, and they shape the contexts in which these changes are experienced. Double exposure shows that it is possible to use global change processes to create a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future that contributes to increased human security.

Keywords:   interventions, human security, sustainable future, integrated responses

Human security is achieved when and where individuals and communities: have the options necessary to end, mitigate, or adapt to threats to their human, environmental, and social rights; have the capacity and freedom to exercise these options; and actively participate in attaining these options.

—GECHS, Science Plan: Global Environmental Changes and Human Security Project

With a consistent focus on human security, more integrated social arrangements and more integrated global efforts can address the big threats and make people more secure.

—Commission on Human Security, Human Security Now

Global environmental change and globalization are often viewed as separate and distinct processes. Yet, as has been shown in this book, the two interact in numerous ways, creating linkages, feedbacks, and synergies across both space and time. The tendency to view global change processes in isolation is reinforced by separate and often competing discourses, each of which presents its own interpretation of the processes as well as its own agenda for research and policy action. This separation of discourses not only limits the types of questions that are asked but also hides some key opportunities for responding positively to change.

The double exposure framework provides a conceptual tool for investigating the interactions between global environmental change and globalization. The framework demonstrates how the processes may together undermine human security by exacerbating inequalities, increasing vulnerabilities, and accelerating rates of change. Yet the framework also reveals how the linkages between the two (p.105) processes may be used to create synergies and new openings for enhancing human security. For example, growing global awareness about the threat of climate change is leading to many new initiatives and partnerships between NGOs, local communities, corporations, and multilateral agencies to promote alternative forms of energy.1 Such initiatives, which may also reduce the costs of solar cells, wind power, and other technologies, can potentially bring energy to poorer countries at reasonable costs, possibly enhancing agricultural productivity and generating new sources of local income (Annan 2000). This chapter examines current efforts to address the challenges associated with each process, and it discusses the limitations of addressing each process in isolation. It then shows how positive synergies between the two processes can be used to create a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future.

Addressing Global Change

The processes of global environmental change and globalization are generating a myriad of policies and actions by international institutions, national governments, NGOs, corporations, private foundations, religious organizations, civil society groups, and individuals. Many of these activities are implicitly or explicitly connected to the discourses and interpretations of global environmental change and globalization that were discussed in chapter 2, and most have been contested or criticized by proponents of alternative discourses. Here we will draw attention to the implications of double exposure for responses that address global change processes. Responses that address global change are grouped into three types, each corresponding to a key challenge that was revealed by one of the pathways of double exposure: (1) interventions intended to reduce outcome differentials; (2) interventions intended to reduce vulnerability; and (3) interventions intended to change the processes. We do not evaluate or prioritize specific interventions but instead identify contradictions that may emerge when each process is viewed in isolation. We emphasize the need for integrated responses that recognize the interactions between the two processes including the linkages between outcomes, contexts, and feedbacks.

Decreasing Outcome Differentials

Processes of global environmental change and globalization produce uneven outcomes across individuals, households, regions, and social groups. The pathway of outcome double exposure stresses that these uneven outcomes are interrelated through shared contextual environments that influence both exposure and the capacity to respond to each process. Yet most efforts to address uneven outcomes focus on the effects of a single type of global change, ignoring the overlaps and synergies with the other process.

Typical approaches to addressing the uneven outcomes of globalization include redistribution, adjustment assistance, and compensation for those who are negatively affected. Redistribution programs such as social welfare and unemployment (p.106) assistance provide a minimum income, social and health services, and other types of support for unemployed workers. Adjustment assistance typically entails education, retraining, or relocation assistance. Compensation may include some type of direct financial remuneration, such as production subsidies that are intended to help farmers, firms, and other producers to be more competitive in the global economy. These approaches, all of which emphasize reduction of outcome differentials, have most commonly been initiated in response to the uneven effects of trade liberalization.

Uneven outcomes attributable to global environmental change are increasingly recognized, yet few specific measures have been taken to reduce outcome differentials. Instead, the consequences of shocks linked to global environmental change are typically dealt with through humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Responses to shocks such as floods or droughts include both material and logistical assistance that aims to save lives, reduce suffering, and help in recovery and reconstruction (Hilhorst 2004). The development and expansion of public and private insurance schemes, which are prevalent in advanced economies, have also been recommended as a mechanism to spread risks and reduce financial losses associated with global environmental change (Mills 2005; Linerooth-Bayer and Vári 2006).

The possibility of legal action and financial compensation to redress damage and loss of life is increasingly being discussed in relation to climate change (Tol and Verheyen 2004; Smith and Shearman 2006; Adger et al. 2006). The issue of compensation for loss of snow, glaciers, coral reefs, and other ecosystem features also forms part of a larger climate change equity movement (Athanasiou and Baer 2002; Adger 2004). Nonetheless, climate change compensation remains a highly contested issue (Adger et al. 2006). Adger (2004) elaborates on the difficulties of financial compensation in the Arctic, suggesting that climate change is a fundamentally unjust burden representing an externality from past and present polluters in other jurisdictional areas. He argues that a focus on security and danger as outcomes of climate change, as well as a clearer definition of the right to avoid such outcomes, would help to rectify these issues (Adger 2004). Farber (2007, 1631) considers the challenges involved in designing a fair and efficient system of compensation for climate change and suggests key lessons of the experiences from natural disaster compensation: “Private insurance may be inadequate to deal with large-scale impacts as opposed to more localized harms. Also, given the variety of institutional forms for providing compensation, we should not focus exclusively on the litigation system as a basis for compensation.”

The compensation issue illustrates the political complexity of climate change responses, drawing attention to issues of justice and fairness between those who are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions and those who are likely to experience the negative consequences (Adger et al. 2006; O'Brien and Leichenko 2006). Provision of funds to plan for climate change adaptation is consequently another preliminary measure to address the negative outcomes of climate change (Huq and Burton 2003). While such funds are under negotiation, the U.N. Global Environment Facility currently supports a number of programs to assist poor countries as they develop National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) to identify their most urgent adaptation priorities (GEF 2006).

(p.107) While interventions to reduce outcome differentials are important and necessary, they are likely to bring limited relief when they recognize only one process of global change, particularly in cases where another process is simultaneously exacerbating inequalities. These efforts are also likely to have limited success when underlying contextual environments remain unchanged. As has been emphasized throughout this book, the overlapping outcomes of the two processes are not random but in fact stem from common contextual factors. Moreover, the capacity to address uneven outcomes may be changing as a result of both processes. For example, the capacity of the public sector to address uneven outcomes is in many cases decreasing at the same time that there is an increasing demand for resources to address the negative outcomes. As Onis and Aysan (2000, 2) note, the globalization process itself “undermines the redistributive capacities of the nation-state which would otherwise even out the resulting income disparities [associated with globalization], at least to a certain extent.” Strategies to decrease outcome differentials are necessary but insufficient responses to the challenges linked to double exposure.

Reducing Vulnerability

Many individuals, communities, regions, and groups are becoming more vulnerable to shocks and stressors as a result of both global environmental change and globalization. The pathway of context double exposure demonstrates how the processes are transforming biophysical, social, economic, political, institutional, technological, and cultural conditions, influencing both exposure and the capacity to respond to many types of change. Approaches to reducing vulnerability and improving resilience often focus on these contextual conditions, with a particular emphasis on increasing the capacity to adapt to changing conditions (Thompson et al. 2006; Kirby 2006).

Development aid has been considered by many as a means to both limit exposure and enhance the capacity to respond to global change processes (see Sachs 2005). This approach is well illustrated by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015. The goals include the eradication of poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment of women, a reduction of child mortality and improvements in maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases. The MDGs also emphasize environmental sustainability and the development of global partnerships for development. Transformations of the contextual environment on the scale envisioned by the MDGs are expected to reduce vulnerability of much of the world's population to many types of shocks and stresses. Yet the MDGs do not explicitly recognize how global environmental change and globalization interact to alter contextual conditions while at the same time influencing the frequency and magnitude of various types of extreme events (e.g., floods, economic shocks). The MDG emphasis on the least developed countries also fails to acknowledge new types of vulnerabilities within advanced economies, such as those revealed by the case studies of the Paris Heat Wave and Hurricane Katrina.

(p.108) Other interventions to reduce vulnerability focus on changes in technological and institutional conditions. Technological solutions either may reduce exposure to shocks and stresses or may enhance response capacity. For example, technologies to reduce flood exposure can include the construction of sea walls, dams, and levees and the development of early warning systems. In the agricultural sector, technologies that reduce vulnerability to drought include new seed varieties and expansion of irrigation schemes. In relation to biodiversity loss, technological responses may include captive breeding programs and electronic monitoring systems. Institutional responses to biodiversity loss include bans on international trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Institutional approaches may also include adaptive management strategies and facilitation of collaborative learning and information sharing among public and private institutions (Lee 1999; Berkhout et al. 2006; Thompson 2006; Berkes 2007). Promotion of adaptation has received increased attention within discussions about climate variability and change, particularly since some change is expected to occur in the next decades regardless of mitigation efforts (Adger et al. 2007).

Transforming the contextual environment for individuals and communities can be considered an effective means of reducing vulnerability to global change processes. However, such approaches do not address the processes themselves, which are continually changing the context for both exposure and responses. Many initiatives to reduce vulnerability fail to recognize that global change processes are increasing the frequency and magnitude of extreme events, changing the nature of environmental shocks and their impacts on livelihoods (Schipper and Pelling 2006). Moreover, efforts to reduce vulnerability often tend to view globalization (e.g., opening of markets and expansion of international trade) as a positive step, without recognizing that these changes may also create new vulnerabilities.2 Efforts that rely on private or technological solutions tend to be based on prior event histories, and they typically do not recognize new risks and uncertainties posed by processes such as climate change. The changing nature of risks poses new challenges to the insurance industry, which in itself may transform the context for new developments and investments (ABI 2004; Mills et al. 2005).

Changing the Processes

An accelerating pace of change is characteristic of both global environmental change and globalization. In many instances, changes associated with each process are occurring faster than communities or species can adapt, and at the same time they are undermining essential ecosystem services. The pathway of feedback double exposure illustrates how responses to the outcomes of global environmental change and globalization may create feedbacks that drive and accelerate global change processes. Efforts to manage the pace of change and promote more sustainable development trajectories often entail direct challenges to the processes themselves (IPCC 2007b). However, unless the linkages and feedbacks are considered, contradictory or negative consequences may result.

(p.109) Both global environmental change and globalization processes are currently being challenged by multiple actors operating at various scales. Internationally, over 100 treaties and multinational agreements have been signed to protect the global environment. Some of these agreements address the driving factors behind environmental change. The Montreal Protocol, for example, limits the production of ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Other international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, represent a first step in controlling the rate and magnitude of climate change. The Biodiversity Convention, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are other examples of international efforts to manage, slow, or halt environmental change.3

In addition to these multilateral efforts to manage environmental change, many social movements have emerged to challenge the driving forces behind the observed and projected changes (McDonald 2006). These movements may either support or criticize market environmentalism, which is increasingly pursued as a response to global environmental change. In the case of climate change, market environmentalism involves taking advantage of the differential costs of greenhouse gas reductions, both within specific countries and across national borders (Kruger and Pizer 2004; Bogdonoff and Rubin 2007). Carbon trading and offset programs utilize emerging regional and global markets for carbon, generating new opportunities for investors, banks, corporations, and entrepreneurs to profit through quota sales or carbon reduction schemes. Although projects associated with programs such as the Clean Development Mechanism are intended to improve energy access and enhance livelihoods in developing countries, many of these efforts have been criticized because of negative environmental and social consequences (Lohmann 2006). For example, the spread of monoculture plantations of eucalyptus trees, such as those cultivated in Minas Gerais, Brazil, to replace coal with charcoal in the production of pig iron, has desiccated swamps and streams, contaminated air and water, destroyed plant and animal species, and disrupted the livelihoods of small-scale farmers living nearby (Wysham 2005).

There are also many groups and actors around the world who are challenging globalization (Klein 2000; Kingsnorth 2003). As was discussed in chapter 2's review of globalization discourses, some of these efforts seek to halt the present course of globalization while others seek to make the course more fair and equitable. Examples of efforts to halt globalization range from antiglobalization protests, which have became a fixture at World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in recent years, to the Local Currency Movement, which promotes locally based production and consumption (Helleiner 2002), to the World Social Forum, which provides a venue for groups and civil society movements concerned with development, social justice, equity, and the environment (Bello 2004).4

Strategies to transform rather than halt globalization direct attention to issues of fairness and equity, but particularly to the “unlevel playing field” that characterizes the differing contexts for promoting trade across the globe (Stiglitz 2006). Efforts to transform globalization are increasingly involving individual consumers in advanced economies. Such initiatives include fair trade labeling of food products, (p.110) which identify foods produced under fair trade agreements, food miles campaign to raise awareness of the distance that many food products travel and the energy consumed, and geographic labeling of food sources to encourage consumption of local products.

While many of these efforts have succeeded in slowing or transforming processes of global change, they may also have unexpected negative consequences, or even contradictory effects, particularly when linkages or feedbacks to other processes are not taken into account. Responses intended to limit biodiversity loss, climate change, land use change, water scarcity, and other environmental issues may—via globalization processes—have unintended consequences for some individuals and communities. For example, the growing demand for renewable energy resources such as ethanol and other biofuels competes with food production and hence raises market prices for staple foods. Countries that increasingly depend on food imports as the result of trade liberalization may thus experience negative outcomes from such responses. Similarly, efforts to reduce “food miles” may limit export opportunities for farmers involved in “fair trade” production (Woodin and Lucas 2004).

The unintended consequences of various intervention efforts become apparent when we recognize the connections between the two global change processes. Yet addressing these unintended consequences raises broader ethical questions about all types of intervention strategies: Whose security is enhanced by these interventions, and whose security is compromised? Are uneven outcomes from responses to global change processes as significant as the uneven outcomes from the processes themselves? What types of values should serve as guidelines for addressing global change?5 The double exposure framework can be used to identify interventions that are consistent with the goals of human security, including efforts “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment” (Commission on Human Security 2003, 4). The framework shows that responses that address the context, outcomes, and processes together in an integrated manner are more likely to be consistent with these human security goals.

New Openings

We have emphasized throughout this book that global environmental change and globalization are transformative processes that are creating growing inequalities, increasing vulnerabilities, and accelerating the pace of change. Not surprisingly, human security remains an elusive goal for much of the world's population. Nevertheless, individuals and communities across the globe are increasingly claiming or reclaiming their rights to end, mitigate, or adapt to threats posed by double exposure (Kingsnorth 2003; Hardt and Negri 2004). Here we emphasize some of the opportunities associated with processes of global change. Although the double exposure framework is not intended to offer specific answers or solutions, recognition of positive interactions between global processes can reveal new openings that may promote human security.

(p.111) Emerging coalitions that transcend traditional divides (North–South, race, class, and gender) and that challenge the inequities associated with climate change represent one example of how both processes can positively interact. Examples of these coalitions and new organizations include EcoEquity, which is devoted to the promotion of equitable and just solutions to climate change; the Climate Crisis Coalition, which includes representatives from environmental, labor, human rights, social justice, public health, indigenous rights, and religious groups in its efforts to stem climate change; and the Global Justice Ecology Project, which focuses on the connections between social justice and ecological awareness. Each of these coalitions recognizes the need for large-scale transformations of global energy infrastructure, coupled with dramatic improvements in human development to facilitate this transition (EcoEquity and Christian Aid 2006).

Globalization of media and communication technologies has also facilitated broad dissemination of information about global environmental issues. Although the globalization of “taste” for ocean fish in combination with better technologies for fishing are depleting stocks of nearly every species of large ocean fish, there is also growing awareness of this issue due to the role of the global media, which has led to the removal of shark and other species from menus in recent years. Increased environmental awareness is also contributing to global efforts to protect fisheries and fish stocks worldwide through certification programs and sustainable management practices (MSC 2006).

Opportunities to make positive connections between the two processes may also be illustrated in some of the emerging agricultural movements intended to alter consumption and production patterns. The fair trade movement aims to ensure that small farmers worldwide obtain fair prices for their harvests yet at the same time advocates environmental stewardship through promotion of organic and sustainable farming and land use methods (Woodin and Lucas 2004). The Slow Food Movement opposes homogenization of food tastes and the loss of cultural identities associated with food traditions while also supporting biodiversity, including protection of both domesticated and wild species (Petrini and Watson 2001). This movement also supports local farmers who are competing with large-scale industrial agriculture to maintain their livelihoods (Bové and Dufour 2001).

Recognition of growing connectivities associated with double exposure also suggests new possibilities for enhancing both social and ecological resilience in the face of emergencies and disasters. The globalization of communication technologies has played an important role in the emergence of new forms of humanitarian action (McDonald 2006). The spread of technologies such as early warning systems to remote areas of less-developed regions may increase preparedness and improve response times for disasters—a change that might have saved many lives during the tsunami that hit South and Southeast Asia in December 2004 (Mitchell 2006). Enhanced economic ties as the result of globalization of supply chains are also giving private sector actors, including multinational corporations, a greater stake in promoting resilience. Because these actors have vital production facilities in many countries, they are also playing a growing role in both disaster preparedness and disaster recovery (Bender 2006).

(p.112) Political actions originating at the local level yet linked via transnational networks also offer opportunities to address collectively many global environmental issues. For example, hundreds of municipalities worldwide are implementing climate change mitigation strategies via participation in the Cities for Climate Protection campaign, which was initiated in 1991 by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) (Bulkeley and Betsill 2003; Kousky and Schneider 2003; Slocum 2004; Young 2007). As of 2006, 261 cities in North America and more than 675 cities worldwide were participating in this campaign, setting greenhouse gases emission reduction targets and developing local action plans to reduce their emissions.

Communication of new ideas for adaptation to and mitigation of global environmental change is also increasingly facilitated via growing global networks (Moser and Dilling 2007; Young 2007). For example, Curitiba, Brazil, has become an icon for cities that are pursuing sustainable development and mitigation strategies for climate change (O'Meara Sheehan 2002). This city of 2.5 million residents has prioritized the development of public transit based on high-quality bus systems and a complementary package of measures that deemphasize cars, while also preserving green spaces and producing an array of economic, environmental, and social co-benefits (Wright and Fulton 2005). Curitiba's strategy has been emulated by many cities around the world and has in part influenced new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in Beijing, Jakarta, Seoul, and Leon (Mexico) as well as similar projects underway in Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Hanoi, Lima, Mexico City, and Santiago (Wright and Fulton 2005).

While the above examples are modest in scope—and by no means unproblematic—they nonetheless reveal that new openings may exist for harnessing the interactions between global environmental change and globalization. Neither one is an inevitable process with predetermined outcomes. Although it is clear that societies will have to adapt to a changing climate, that many species are already threatened or endangered, and that many cultures and groups face challenges to their survival and security, there are still many windows of opportunity to “change the change.” Recognition of double exposure highlights new openings for promoting outcomes that enhance human security.


Global environmental change and globalization are among the most transformative processes of the contemporary period. Both processes create uneven outcomes, and both vividly illustrate how actions taken in one place and time can influence outcomes in other places and at other times. Both processes also generate increasing uncertainties about the future. Many of these uncertainties are linked to the rate, magnitude, and type of changes that are occurring, but there are also uncertainties regarding capacities to respond to these changes.

Addressing the dynamic changes taking place in the world today requires moving beyond traditional intellectual boundaries to consider complex relationships (p.113) between seemingly disparate issues and problems. The metaphor of double exposure emphasizes how two separate pictures may be overlapped— either unintentionally or intentionally—to form a new picture. This new picture is not static but instead is undergoing continual and rapid transformation as a result of interactions between global environmental change and globalization. Yet, as with photographic images, which are increasingly captured and manipulated in digital format, it is often difficult to “see” how resulting pictures are created via interacting processes of global change. The double exposure framework provides a conceptual tool for investigation of many types of interactions between these global processes. The three pathways highlighted in the framework draw attention to the spatial and temporal dimensions of risk and change, illustrating how the processes together pose significant new challenges for human security.

The framework also reveals how synergies between global environmental change and globalization create new openings for enhancing human security. It emphasizes that there is nothing inevitable about processes and outcomes of global change. Human decisions, values, and behaviors drive global change processes, and they shape the contexts in which these changes are experienced. Although we live in an era of profound change, the double exposure framework shows us that these changes can be used to create a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future.


(1.) A number of new climate change partnerships and initiatives were announced in 2007, some with significant levels of financial support. Examples include a U.S. $100 million partnership sponsored by HSBC bank, in collaboration with The Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and the World Wildlife Fund (Osborne 2007), and the formation of an Urban Climate Change Research Network with participants from universities, local governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs, and the private sector (Earth Institute News 2007).

(2.) The last of the Millennium Development goals—to develop a global partnership for development—is aimed, for example, at supporting and directing the process of globalization in that it makes a call to “Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory.” (UN 2005b).

(3.) An important limitation of many of these multilateral treaties is that they limit participation to sovereign states and exclude other key actors such as NGOs, local governments, members of civil society, and the private sector.

(4.) The World Social Forum, held annually in different cities throughout the world, is described as “an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person.” (World Social Forum India 2007).

(5.) Interventions may be evaluated on the basis of principles of utilitarianism, which focus on achieving the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, versus Rawls' (1972) notions of egalitarianism, which suggests that those who are negatively affected by various interventions must also be compensated (O'Brien and Leichenko 2003).