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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Climate Change, Migration, and Nontraditional Security Threats in China
Press Release

RELEASE: Climate Change, Migration, and Nontraditional Security Threats in China

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Center for American Progress released the latest report in a series on the intersecting phenomena of climate, migration, and security. This new report examines the implications of this nexus in five Chinese hotspots and discusses their impact on domestic and regional policy.

“If China doesn’t manage the risks from climate change and migration effectively, it could have devastating impacts on the economy and trigger security behavior detrimental to U.S. and global interests,” said Michael Werz, Senior Fellow at CAP and co-author of the report.

The report analyzes five climate migration hotspots in China:

  • The greater Beijing region: dangerous air quality, extreme water scarcity, sea-level rise in the Yellow River Delta, a population of 20.18 million, and a regional migration hub.
  • The Yangtze River Delta region: Shanghai exposed to sea-level rise, urbanization stressing entire delta, water pollution, acid rain, soil pollution, solid waste accumulation, and very high inbound migration.
  • The Pearl River Delta region: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Macau face soil pollution, heavy metal pollution, food contamination, air pollution, soil erosion, sea-level rise, and very high incoming migration.
  • The Xinjiang region: one of the unhealthiest regions due to air and water pollution, desertification, and general degradation; region faces persistent unrest as result of Han Chinese influx and clashes with local Uighur Muslims.
  • The Chongqing region: industrial mega-city on banks of Yangtze River under heavy environmental and migratory stress; largest source of organic water pollution, concentrated migratory traffic, and 20 percent of the city’s registered population passes through as floating migrants.

China’s 12th Five-Year Plan—covering the years from 2011 to 2015—outlines measures designed to address some of these issues, but policy initiatives are still siloed. China does not yet have the necessary political mechanisms to address the complex crisis scenarios presented by overlapping challenges linked to climate change, migration, and insecurity.

The converging challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, internal mobility, and resulting security challenges will contribute to already intense policy focus on energy security as well as economic and social development; it will also influence the government’s foreign policy. These dynamics could result in greater regional stress and potential conflict, including:

  • Transboundary riparian conflict in the Brahmaputra and Mekong River Basins with neighboring countries India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.
  • A possible Chinese “going out” strategy with a hawkish stance on the current South and East China Sea disputes.

Useful cooperation to help Beijing grapple with the challenge could include:

  • Collaborative humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to address climate change-induced extreme weather and natural disasters. Military cooperation on humanitarian assistance helps build trust between the two militaries and reduce the potential for misunderstandings and accidents.
  • Cross-Pacific partnerships between nongovernmental organizations and scientific educational organizations to promote dialogue and nongovernmental, private collaborations on climate security issues.
  • Strategically implement mitigation and adaptation projects in the region, as well as technical capacity building in developing countries.
  • Conduct collaborative research projects and information sharing with China, India, Bangladesh, and other Asia-Pacific countries vulnerable to climate change.
  • Integrate climate change, migration, and humanitarian issues into traditional security bureaucracies.

Read the report: Climate Change, Migration, and Nontraditional Security Threats in China by Michael Werz and Lauren Reed

Related resources from the climate, migration, and security series:

To speak with an expert on this topic, contact Anne Shoup at 202.481.7146 or [email protected].