Quantcast

Climate Change Is Already Driving Mass Migration Around the Globe

Climate
Children are playing in inland refugee camp in the village of Garowe, Somalia Feb. 21, 2017. According to UN figures, more than a million domestic refugees exist in the country at the Horn of Africa. Some 6.2 million people in Somalia are dependent on humanitarian aid as a result of a severe drought. Anna Mayumi Kerber / picture alliance / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

Given the oversize role that migration plays in our current political discourse, you'd think there would be more emphasis on the one factor military and security experts believe will affect future migration patterns more than any other: .


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 and significantly stall development in those regions.

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.

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.

By breaking climate change down into its component geophysical symptoms, the memo makes a strong case for treating it as a threat multiplier, with the potential to push vulnerable states past the tipping point into chaos. "Extended drought, more frequent and severe weather events, heat waves, warming and acidifying ocean waters, catastrophic wildfires, and rising sea levels all have compounding effects on people's health and well-being," it reads. "Flooding and water scarcity can negatively affect food and energy production. Energy infrastructure, essential for supporting other key sectors, is already vulnerable to extreme weather and may be further compromised." Also listed among the concerns are transportation disruptions, pest outbreaks, the spread of invasive species, and disease. All of these, in the words of the memo, "can lead to population migration within and across international borders, spur crises, and amplify or accelerate conflict in countries or regions already facing instability and fragility."

Obama's memo painted a dire picture. But it wasn't dire enough, apparently, to earn the respect of President Trump, who revoked it in March 2017 in a sweeping executive order that also rescinded a number of other Obama-era memos and executive orders related to climate change. In case anyone misunderstood his rationale for essentially stripping any and all mention of climate change from the executive branch, he spelled it out. "[I]t is the policy of the United States that executive departments and agencies . . . immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law."

Last Thursday the GAO weighed in on Trump's decision—and deemed it seriously shortsighted. At the end of its report, Climate Change: Activities of Selected Agencies to Address Potential Impact on Global Migration, it concludes that State Department missions are less likely now than they were before to recognize climate change "as a risk to their strategic objectives." It recommends reinstating guidance for diplomats and other foreign service workers "that clearly documents the department's process for climate change risk assessments for integrated country strategies." Or, to translate from the GAO's carefully calibrated nonpartisan language into plain English: Enough with the gag order, guys. You're putting our diplomatic corps at a strategic disadvantage and doing a real disservice to American interests abroad.

The sad yet predictable postscript to the report? According to the GAO, the State Department has grudgingly accepted its recommendation and says it will "update its integrated country strategy guidance by June 30" to inform missions that they have the option, at least, to talk about climate resilience officially without fear of punishment. But the administration couldn't let the GAO go without smacking it down for its insolence. In its response, the State Department also hinted that it was strongly considering rescinding yet another Obama-era executive order related to climate resilience and international development.

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.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Gretchen Goldman

The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has released their consensus recommendations to the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The group of 20 independent experts, that were disbanded by Administrator Wheeler last October and reconvened last week, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, has now made clear that the current particulate pollution standards don't protect public health and welfare.

Read More Show Less
An African elephant is pictured on November 19, 2012, in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The unprecedented drought that has caused a water crisis in Zimbabwe has now claimed the life of at least 55 elephants since September, according to a wildlife spokesman, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Maria Dornelas.

By John C. Cannon

Life is reshuffling itself at an unsettling clip across Earth's surface and in its oceans, a new study has found.

Read More Show Less
An Exxon station in Florida remains open despite losing its roof during Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. Florida Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Shaun Withers

The country's largest fossil fuel company goes on trial today to face charges that it lied to investors about the safety of its assets in the face of the climate crisis and potential legislation to fight it, as the AP reported.

Read More Show Less
El Niño's effect on Antarctica is seen in a tabular iceberg off of Thwaites ice shelf. Jeremy Harbeck / NASA

El Niños are getting stronger due to climate change, according to a new study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Julia Ries

  • Antibiotic resistance has doubled in the last 20 years.
  • Additionally a new study found one patient developed resistance to a last resort antibiotic in a matter of weeks.
  • Health experts say antibiotic prescriptions should only be given when absolutely necessary in order to avoid growing resistance.

Over the past decade, antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the greatest public health threats.

Read More Show Less
Pexels


There are hundreds of millions of acres of public land in the U.S., but not everyone has had the chance to hike in a national forest or picnic in a state park.

Read More Show Less
Workers attend to a rooftop solar panel project on May 14, 2017 in Wuhan, China. Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

By Simon Evans

Renewable sources of electricity are set for rapid growth over the next five years, which could see them match the output of the world's coal-fired power stations for the first time ever.

Read More Show Less