The Syrian refuge crisis has shocked the world not only in its scale and intensity but also by governments’ inability to deal with the displaced people. This emergency is a proving ground for the EU and the global community as a whole. The EU must prove it can function as a committed unit with one border and the global community needs to demonstrate that it can work together to deal with tragedies of this scale. World leaders must address this crisis not as a single issue but as a stepping stone toward solving future global issues in a systematic way.
The results of climate change are difficult to predict and vary depending on the region, local geography and level of development. Global effects are already being seen, such as increased drought, increased frequency of severe weather systems and rising sea levels. What the longterm effects of these changes will be on local climates, economies and ecosystems remains to be seen but the one certainty is increased unpredictability and instability.
California, an incredibly wealthy state, is struggling to create resilient systems to maintain its agricultural production in the face of intense drought. They have the money and resources to (hopefully) survive the challenge and support their citizens. Looking to more fragile regions such as Somalia, we see that a poor cereal harvest due to a shortage of rain is leading to population migration and the threat of flooding because of an Intense El Nino may worsen the situation. California is an exception; when states lacking the funds and resources to adapt are hit by intense natural disasters many people will be forced to migrate in order to survive.
Population movements are already being seen across the globe and particularly from Africa and the Middle East into Europe plus from Central America into the USA. As climate change continues, population movements will only increase. More importantly, we will see greater fragility in food systems and economic stability as weather patterns change. This fragility will be a ‘threat multiplier’ making regions already struggling to build and sustain democratic systems even more unstable.
There are three major climate related phenomenon predicted to cause major population migrations. First is sea level rise, much has been made of South Pacific Islands losing coastline or undergoing severe change. Sea level rise will have equally intense results on coastal communities, particularly coastal cities (think New York, Mumbai, Venice or New Orleans). These communities will have to adapt their systems and infrastructure to rising sea levels or large portions of the population will have to move.
Second is food and water security. With climate change will come increased risk of both drought and unpredictable rains. Both of these issues lead to a loss in agricultural production, safe potable water and an erosion of food distribution systems. When drought claims large industrial scale farms and family farms alike, populations shift to where they can find the resources they need to survive.
Finally, large scale natural disasters are set to increase with the rise in global temperatures. Hurricanes and flooding force people to flee and seek safety in large numbers over a short period.
All three of these issues destabilize local systems and regions as a whole; this kind of instability can easily devolve into conflict. If global systems of assistance aren’t reinforced, these events will become human disasters at an inhuman scale.
Climate Change, regional stability and refugees all need to be addressed by the international community in a clear and well organized way. Though it is a struggle, the climate conference in Paris has the goal of addressing Climate change as a whole. International diplomacy and engagement is focused on increasing regional stability. What we see in the Syria crisis today however, is that we are not ready for a large scale climate refugee crisis.
There is not a legal definition of a Climate Refugee but this is beside the point, these people will need help regardless of their status. Unfortunately, not having a legal definition weakens global institutions’ ability to address these people. Without clear refugee status, many countries won’t introduce climate refugees into their immigration systems. The difficulty is that distinguishing Climate Refugee from other migrants is next to impossible as climate change is intertwined with other issues. As climate change increases instability and conflict potential, Climate Refugees will look much like the refugees we are already seeing today and the international community will need to give them legal standing.
The next year holds several challenges for the international community. The current refugee crisis needs to be dealt with quickly and efficiently before winter becomes a major threat to displaced people and an obstacle to assistance. The Paris Climate Change talks is an opportunity for the global community to come together to address a major threat to our common security. The Syrian conflict remains an intense force of instability in the region. If the global community can deal with these issues it will be a first step in addressing future stability issues as a result of climate change and the future waves of climate refugees. It is time to show the best of humanity and come together to solve these global problems.