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Effects of Climate Change and Migration in Northwest Africa

CAP Event Examines How to Answer the Resulting Security Challenges

On April 18 the Center for American Progress hosted an event looking at how climate change and subsequent population migration are creating unique international security challenges in Northwest Africa, and how we can answer these challenges. CAP released a new report at the event, “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in Northwest Africa,” which explores the links between these topics.

In his introductory remarks, CAP Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle said:

[The] nexus between climate change, migration, and security is one of the most substantial challenges facing our country today. It is a challenge that threatens the political, economic, and global stability of many nations around the world, and has the potential to negatively impact our international governance systems.

The report, Daschle said, “convincingly argues that we are entering unchartered waters in the 21st century, and require a new understanding, and a new conceptual framework, to address the complex crises scenarios outlined, for instance, in Northwest Africa.”

A panel discussion followed Daschle’s remarks. Moderated by Marcus D. King, associate research professor of international affairs and associate director of research at The George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, the panel included CAP Senior Fellow Michael Werz; Kit Batten, global climate change coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID; and Sherry Goodman, senior vice president, and general council and corporate secretary for CNA, and executive director of the CNA military advisory board.

Batten said that climate change is only one stressor on migration and security, “in addition to other political, social, and economic stressors, contributing to migration, both internal and international, and may in turn also contribute to instability in various forms.” She said all of these stressors are important in analyzing and helping a population, and that climate change, migration, and security shouldn’t necessarily be conflated.

Goodman also talked about her work and provided three recommendations for moving forward: “lower[ing] the risks associated with the mass displacement by looking at how to do smart development and diplomacy and planning”; “reduc[ing] illegal migration”; and doing more research within the field.

Werz said that the report opens the door for conversation and helps “reconfigure foreign policy in the 21st century.” He said that while the relationship between climate change and migration, as well as security, is not a certain one, “[scientific] uncertainty cannot and should not be taken as a reason not to act.” Instead, it should lead to cautiousness and “prudent planning.”

All of the panelists agreed that, in Daschle’s words, we are in “unchartered waters.” But King said that a good place to start is where we already are. Climate change needs to be a part of the discussion on development, diplomacy, and defense already in progress at the international level.

For more on this event, please see its event page.