Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict. Addressing Complex Crisis Scenarios in the 21st Century - Environment

Image removed.
photo: Source AP/ Topphoto (through: CAP)

February 16, 2012
Michael Werz and Laura Conley

Addressing Complex Crisis Scenarios in the 21st Century

The intersection of climate change, human migration, and conflict presents a unique challenge for US foreign policy in the 21st century. These three factors are already beginning to combine in ways that undermine traditional understandings of national security and demand a rethink of traditional divisions between diplomacy, defense, and economic, social and environmental development policy abroad. Addressing this nexus – of climate change, migration, and conflict – will be a core challenge of this century. As the number of migrants, driven in part by environmental degradation, continues to grow, the adaptive capacity of states worldwide will be strained, and new security gaps will appear in which non-state actors have the potential to flourish. Addressing this challenge will require understanding, preparation, and new models of regional cooperation.

This project is cooperation with the Center for American Progress



Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict. Addressing Complex Crisis Scenarios in the 21st Century

by Michael Werz and Laura Conley

The costs and consequences of climate change on our world will define the 21st century. Even if nations across our planet were to take immediate steps to rein in carbon emissions – an unlikely prospect – a warmer climate is inevitable. As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, noted in 2007, human-created “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”

As these ill effects progress they will have serious implications for U.S. national security interests as well as global stability – extending from the sustainability of coastal military installations to the stability of nations that lack the resources, good governance, and resiliency needed to respond to the many adverse consequences of climate change. And as these effects accelerate, the stress will impact human migration and conflict around the world.

It is difficult to fully understand the detailed causes of migration and economic and political instability, but the growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict raise plenty of reasons for concern. This is why it’s time to start thinking about new and comprehensive answers to multifaceted crisis scenarios brought on or worsened by global climate change. As Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, argues, “The question we must continuously ask ourselves in the face of scientific complexity and uncertainty, but also growing evidence of climate change, is at what point precaution, common sense or prudent risk management demands action.”

In the coming decades climate change will increasingly threaten humanity’s shared interests and collective security in many parts of the world, disproportionately affecting the globe’s least developed countries. Climate change will pose challenging social, political, and strategic questions for the many different multinational, regional, national, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the human condition worldwide. Organizations as different as Amnesty International, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the International Rescue Committee, and the World Health Organization will all have to tackle directly the myriad effects of climate change.

Climate change also poses distinct challenges to U.S. national security. Recent intelligence reports and war games, including some conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense, conclude that over the next two or three decades, vulnerable regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia) will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises, and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change. These developments could demand U.S., European, and international humanitarian relief or military responses, often the delivery vehicle for aid in crisis situations.

This report provides the foundation and overview for a series of papers focusing on the particular challenges posed by the cumulative effects of climate change, migration, and conflict in some of our world’s most complex environments. In the papers following this report, we plan to outline the effects of this nexus in northwest Africa, in India and Bangladesh, in the Andean region of South America, and in China. In this paper we detail that nexus across our planet and offer wide ranging recommendations about how the United States, its allies in the global community, and the community at large can deal with the coming climate-driven crises with comprehensive sustainable security solutions encompassing national security, diplomacy, and economic, social, and environmental development.

Download the report Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict (52 pages, pdf, 868KB)

Download the Introduction and Summary of Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict (12 pages, pdf, 207KB)