Climate change is already driving mass migration around the globe. Military and security experts believe that climate change will fuel future migration patterns more than any other factor, which represents a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Last year, the UN analyzed the issue in a report, Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, is the first and most comprehensive study of its kind to focus on the nexus between slow-onset climate change impacts, internal migration patterns and, development in three developing regions of the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
These are people forced to move from increasingly non-viable areas of their countries due to growing problems like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise and storm surges. These climate migrants would be additional to the millions of people already moving within their countries for economic, social, political or other reasons, the report warns.
“We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” said Kristalina Georgieva, World bank CEO. “Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends. It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable.”
The report recommends key actions nationally and globally, including:
“Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” said the report’s team lead Kanta Kumari Rigaud. “We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources. But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now.”
For more than a decade, U.S. national security agencies of the federal government have repeatedly recognized climate change as a national security threat. Since 2010, the Department of Defense has published at least 35 products explicitly addressing the threat of climate change. The intelligence community has produced at least a dozen more.
These national security reports, and related comments by prominent military officials, reflect a consensus among national security stakeholders that climate change is a critical national security issue. The consensus continues in the Trump administration even though the president himself remains skeptical of climate change.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency that analyzes and audits federal policy to ensure its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, isn’t going to let the topic go unaddressed.
In a report to Congress last week, the GAO criticized the manner in which the Trump administration has sought to remove any acknowledgement of climate change from our foreign policy and diplomatic strategies, keeping experts in the dark about an issue that’s growing only more urgent as a shifting climate—and all that comes with it—displaces millions of people and disrupts societies across the globe.
In the European Union, where the stresses and strains associated with processing large numbers of migrants have already reached crisis proportions, experts predict that the annual stream of those seeking safety within its borders will triple by the end of the century due to climate-related migration. And a 2018 World Bank Group report estimates that the impacts of climate change in three of the world’s most densely populated developing regions—sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—could result in the displacement and internal migration of more than 140 million people before 2050. That many people on the move could easily lead to massive political and economic strife.
President Obama formally observed the relationship between climate change, migration, and instability in a 2016 Presidential Memorandum, “Climate Change and National Security.” That memo directed federal departments and agencies “to perform certain functions to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.” It also established a Climate and National Security Working Group, made up of representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and many others, whose purpose was to study the issue and make informed recommendations to the national security and intelligence communities.
According to Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation, an organization based in the United Kingdom that advocates for environmental causes through a human rights lens, climate change “is the unpredictable ingredient that, when added to existing social, economic, and political tensions, has the potential to ignite violence and conflict with disastrous consequences.” Policymakers and business leaders, he says, need to make it a top priority. In the United States, our own military leaders and foreign-policy experts agree, which is why they’ve worked over the years to incorporate an understanding of climate change and its geopolitical ramifications into our statecraft.
Meanwhile, new stories continue to come out every day—in Bangladesh, in Syria, in Mexico and Central America—that confirm the worst fears of security experts and foreign aid workers and reveal the administration’s blasé attitude for what it actually is: a willful ignorance of the facts, mixed with an utter contempt for those who put facts before ideology.
The worsening impacts of climate change in these three densely populated regions of the world could see over 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050, creating a looming human crisis and threatening the development process, a new World Bank Group report finds
But with concerted action – including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and robust development planning at the country level – this worst-case scenario of over 140m could be dramatically reduced, by as much as 80 percent, or more than 100 million people.