National Intelligence Council: Climate Change Will Exacerbate Migration And Increase Conflict

by Michael Werz and Arpita Bhattacharyya

Climate change is likely to constrain natural resources, drive migration both domestically and internationally, and exacerbate tensions globally into 2030, according to a new National Intelligence Council “Global Trends 2030” analysis. The report examines multiple emerging global trends and highlights areas in which climate change will be a key factor. Food, water, and energy demands will increase as populations rise and climate change will further constrain these resources. “Dramatic and unforeseen changes already are occurring at a faster rate than expected. Most scientists are not confident of being able to predict such events. Rapid changes in precipitation patterns – such as monsoons in India and the rest of Asia – could sharply disrupt that region’s ability to feed its population.” And the report states that changes in resource availability and weather patterns will also likely influence migration: “Internal migration – which will be at even higher levels than international migration – will be driven by rapid urbanization in the developing world and, in some countries toward the end of our time frame, by environmental factors and the impact of climate change. Climate-change-driven migration is likely to affect Africa and Asia far more than other continents because of dependence on agriculture in Africa and parts of Asia and because of greater susceptibility in Asia to extreme weather events.” These findings reflect the research of last month’s Center for American Progress publication on “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia,” which examines the role of climate change as it intersects with migration and security at the national level in India and Bangladesh. The research zeroes in more closely on northeast India and Bangladesh to demonstrate the interlocking tensions that might face the population there and across all of South Asia. Previous publications in CAP’s Climate, Migration, and Security Project looked at the Arc of Tension — an area covering Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco that will face climate-related security challenges as a contiguous region. The results strengthen the argument of a recent National Intelligence Assessment concluding that, over the next two or three decades, vulnerable regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia) will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises, and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change. In addition, the depletion of groundwater in agricultural areas will pose risks to national and global food markets in the next decade, threatening social disruption. These developments could demand U.S., European, and international humanitarian relief. Future interventions will also occur while financial resources are under stress, meaning that cooperation and effective burden-sharing will be crucial. The U.S. intelligence community has also identified water management, particularly the mitigation of trans-border riparian risks, as a source of major concern in the next three decades. Inadequate management of river systems like the Brahmaputra, Amu Darya, Tigris and Euphrates, Nile, and Mekong is likely to degrade regional food security and potentially exacerbate political tensions. For example, China’s control over the water from the Tibetan plateau, and their plans for dam building and water diversion projects, will have direct impact on regional security if China’s neighbors are denied access to river flows. Similarly, irrigation in the fertile Punjab is reliant on the waters of a number of Indus River tributaries shared by Pakistan and India. Indian damming projects have increased tensions in recent years and exacerbated Pakistani fears of diminished water supplies. The issues are very real and will be exacerbated by climate change, as glacial melting on the Tibetan plateau alters water dynamics downriver. The potential for water disputes to boil over into political contests and social unrest is acute and growing. The new “Global Trends 2030” report reflects the need to broaden our national security narrative by understanding that climate change may stress existing social tensions surrounding resources and other environmental factors: “…many developing and fragile states-such as in Sub-Saharan Africa- face increasing strains from resource constraints and climate change, pitting different tribal and ethnic groups against one another and accentuating the separation of various identities. Ideology is likely to be particularly powerful and socially destructive when the need for basic resources exacerbates already existing tensions between tribal, ethnic, religious, and national groups.” The 2030 report adds to the growing body of research on climate change and security factors. Tom Friedman highlighted the role of climate change in the Arab Spring earlier this year, highlighting an important analysis by the Center for Climate & Security on climate change’s impact on the situation in Syria. The Center for American Progress has released three major reports on how climate change, migration, and security factors will play out in different regions of the world. Hurricane Sandy, a record-breaking year of drought, heat waves, and extreme weather proved that potential impacts of climate change are not problems of distant shores; they are a globally shared burden. Moving forward, we need to continue scrutinizing the ever-expanding impacts of climate change as migration and security trends change into the 2030s and beyond. Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work as member of the National Security Team focuses on the nexus of climate change, migration, and security and emerging democracies. Arpita Bhattacharyya is Research Assistant to Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol Browner at American Progress.

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