It’s clear that climate change will “worsen in the near future” and force us to rethink our policy standing, said Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy, introducing a CAP event on climate migration on Monday. Climate change is an “accelerant” to conflict in already volatile and unstable regions, and tackling the issue will mean reconsidering the evolving 21st century connections among diplomacy, development, security, climate change, and migration. “Our government needs to use its resources to get out ahead of crises such as those exacerbated by climate change. It also needs to thoroughly rethink the way development, diplomacy, and defense are interconnected,” deLeon said.
CAP Senior Fellow Michael Werz moderated the discussion, which featured Susan Martin, Herzberg Professor of International Migration at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; David Waskow, climate change program director at Oxfam America; and Cynthia Brady, senior conflict analyst at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation.
“Migration…due to climate change is really an exacerbation of underlying social and economic dynamics,” said Waskow. “I think it’s very important that we not see it in a vacuum.” Climate migration is a set of “physical impacts layered over” existing social and economic issues that alters the dynamic between place and politics, he explained.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 200 million people could become climate migrants by 2050, and the majority will move internally at a “slow, steady pace,” according to Martin. This figure has caused many environmentalists to talk about migration in alarmist terms as a failure to adapt while migration experts tend to focus on the changes and positive potential for risk management, added Martin. But both sides can come together to produce a centrist point of view on the subject. This will be necessary to prevent migrants from being demonized as a threat to society, which causes “xenophobic reactions” that can hamper adaptation, said Martin.
Hurricane Katrina—a disaster that led to large-scale displacement—proves that intensified natural disasters can induce migration anywhere. But the majority of climate migration will disproportionately affect already vulnerable communities in unstable developing regions when access to resources or livelihoods is threatened. Despite this foresight, we “still lack efficient, on-the-ground experience” to formulate programs and policy, Brady argued. Evidence-based policy and programming is therefore essential to build capacity at local, state, and national levels to develop pilot projects and conduct data analysis. Only this type of planning can promote cooperation and peace, rather than chaos-induced conflict.
According to Waskow, the key strategies to tackle climate adaptation and migration are “community based” and consist of building climate resilience, managing risk, promoting insurance, and resettling populations when absolutely necessary.
Both Martin and Waskow agree that adaptation is the most important strategy and failure will affect global stability. Both also offered that Congress should be a role model for the international community by providing funding for adaptation strategies so the potential failure can be turned into an opportunity.
Waskow stressed that there is “no single magic bullet” to deal with the social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change, but we can and must still be proactive in the new setting.
Cynthia A. Brady, Senior Conflict Advisor, USAID, Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation
Susan Martin, Herzberg Professor of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
David Waskow, Climate Change Program Director, Oxfam America
Michael Werz, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress