Climate change and migration are security challenges that require a comprehensive response

EPA/CESARE ABBATE

Some 1449 migrants onboard the humanitarian 'Vos Prudence' ship, operated by the Doctors Without Borders organization, arrive at Naples' harbor, Italy, 28 May 2017.

Climate change and migration are security challenges that require a comprehensive response


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Despite the recent regrettable decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the 195-country Paris Agreement, there is a widespread and growing recognition that human-induced climate change is not only taking place, but that it is aggravating some of our most pressing international challenges. From impacting food and water security to exacerbating natural disasters, climate change is fueling migration, poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, and terrorist recruitment.

All of this undermines political institutions and contributes global instability, with climate change acting as a “threat multiplier,” as the United States Department of Defense has described it. In its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, the Defense Department stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” Yet, the legitimate security aspects of the world’s top environmental concerns have seemingly not been factored in to the decision-making processes in Washington. As the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement makes clear, there is a disconnect between science, security and public policy.

At the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where I serve as rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly’s economic and environmental committee, we have always advocated a comprehensive approach to security that links political and military affairs, democratic institutions and human rights, economics and the environment, and science and technology.

In the OSCE’s founding document, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, participating States recognized that “efforts to develop co-operation in the fields of trade, industry, science and technology, the environment and other areas of economic activity contribute to the reinforcement of peace and security in Europe and in the world as a whole.” This document also had the foresight – more than 40 years ago – to recognize that observable “changes in climate” may be the result of human activity, and raised warnings over the effects of degradation of the environment on human health.

While the Helsinki Final Act may have been ahead of its time, it is clear today how important it is to acknowledge the inter-connectedness of these security concerns. We see, for example, how armed conflicts, along with economic, environmental and human rights problems, are now fueling Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

My country of Italy is one of the primary recipients of migrants and refugees coming from war-torn, poor and disadvantaged countries. Italy is both a destination country and a transit country for migrants hoping to make their way north. The International Organization for Migration reports that so far in 2017, at least 59,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea. Despite a decrease in the number of arrivals compared to the same period of the previous year, people are clearly continuing to move in massive numbers to seek better living conditions and to escape wars, poverty and hunger.

The causes of this phenomenon are complex and varied, but it is possible to draw some connections that should be acknowledged. In addition to conflicts and political instability in the Middle East and North Africa, economic and environmental factors – including climate change and related challenges such as food and water security, floods and droughts – continue to push people to migrate. Addressing climate change and migration therefore means not only containing pollution in the industrialized and advanced countries, but also improving the living conditions of the poorer ones.

It is time for the world to recognize what the OSCE has long understood: that our political, human rights, economic and environmental challenges are all related, and if not tackled comprehensively, will adversely impact our common security. This, essentially, is the message that I hope to bring to forefront of the international community’s attention at the OSCE PA’s 26th Annual Session, taking place on 5-9 July in Minsk.

As I point out in my draft resolution, all OSCE countries must recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and its related challenges, including migration, and work in good faith to implement policies on the international, national and subnational levels to bring this problem under control.

My resolution stresses that security concerns, economic growth and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Domestic economic policies should prioritize clean energy projects, investment and innovation to promote sustained growth and ensure that negative effects on the environment are minimized. Clean energy projects can be a major driving force for job growth and sustainable development, facilitating the move into a low-carbon economy in order to mitigate climate change already taking place.

When it comes to the refugee and migrant crisis, I recommend that leaders of the OSCE area adopt a coherent, co-ordinated response based on the principles of international co-operation that are at the heart of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security. This approach should prioritize search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, implement effective screening and integration, and combat the criminal networks exploiting the crisis.

In short, we must address these issues head on and tackle the problems holistically if we hope to achieve the promise of comprehensive security that is at the heart of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.

On Twitter: @Mariettatidei

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