Climate Change, Migration and Critical International Security Considerations

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This report reviews the available scholarly reporting on climate change, migration and security and describes the legal and policy challenges facing the international community. While there is indeed considerable evidence that climate does influence migration, future estimates are hampered by a lack of reliable data. Climate-related migration is closely connected to the social, economic, cultural and institutional processes that shape the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of exposed populations. Conflict may potentially emerge in situations of resource scarcity and resource abundance, but in most cases there will be opportunities for intervention before violence occurs. Most climate change-driven migration is likely to occur with countries and regions, although there will be increased international movements along established migrant networks. To avoid large-scale distress migrations, the report outlines priority actions for policymakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance adaptive capacity in vulnerable regions, and provide assistance to those displaced.




It is increasingly feared that anthropogenic climate change may lead to widespread population displacements and distress migration on scales not previously seen (UNHCR, 2009a). Predictions from reputable commentators have suggested that hundreds of millions of people may become “environmental refugees” within the next few decades, with climate change being a key cause of displacement (Myers, 2002; Christian Aid, 2007; CARE International, 2009). The popular media has identified places as far apart as Shishmaref in Alaska, Cataret Islands in New Guinea and the Lake Chad region of Africa as being sites of the first climate change refugees (IRIN, 2008; Vidal, 2005; Willis, 2004; York 2010). Climate change-related migration is seen not only as a humanitarian threat, but also as a risk to international and regional security (Brown and McLeman, 2009). A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment of the recent conflict in Sudan suggests that regional climate change contributed to instability and conflict in Darfur (UNEP, 2007), while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated publicly that climate change has become a main driver of forced migration (Borger, 2008). Panels of retired military officers and consultants to the US security establishment describe abrupt climate change as a potential “threat multiplier” that could trigger violent conflicts and stimulate waves of distress migration that further destabilize vulnerable nations (CNA, 2007; Schwartz and Randall, 2003). Bookshops now carry ominous titles like Climate Wars (Dyer, 2009) and Global Warring (Paskal, 2009).


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