More and more we are hearing stories about “climate refugees.” U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell used the term to describe the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, a community which this year became the first to receive federal funding to relocate in its entirety from their sinking island home on the Louisiana coast.
Yet climate change-induced migration and displacement actually “falls outside of the more traditional protection regimes like the refugee treaty,” says Maxine Burkett, a public policy fellow with the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, in this week’s podcast.
“Most of the migration that's going to happen as a result of climate change happens internally within countries,” Burkett says. Managing such movement is clearly the purview of national governments.
The harder question is how to deal with those who move across international borders. The UN Refugee Convention was agreed to by states in 1951 and establishes clear protections and specific circumstances under which those protections can be invoked, namely political persecution and the threat of violence.
Climate change – which researchers are finding can play a role in displacement, migration, and vulnerability, though not always as a clear, primary driver – cannot currently be invoked by asylum seekers in search of refugee status in another country. And since the legal definition isn’t codified, descriptive labels such as climate refugee do not bind states to any responsibilities.
This is “a yawning gap in our conversation,” Burkett says. “What are we asking the others to do in order to meet our rights?”
“Without the right name or legal nomenclature, the rights of those within country and especially those in foreign countries – their status rights – are uncertain...The importance of nomenclature in the advancing of human rights is significant.”
The Nansen Initiative, established by Switzerland and Norway in October 2012, was created in response to the lack of legal frameworks for climate change-induced cross-border migration and displacement. It began with the aim of creating protections for those displaced by climate change, but pivoted to address all disasters. Its successor is now simply the Platform on Disaster Displacement. “What is paramount, I think they would argue, is to meet the needs of those who are migrating by assigning and allowing them to exercise their rights,” Burkett says. “Nevermind why they had to move.”
Yet doing so has costs. Combining climate change-induced problems with other environmental issues, despite the difficulty in parsing causes, “scrubs” the downstream discussion of “significant rights language that would be more reparative than simply accommodating,” she says.
“Climate change is not a random, thoughtless act of God, but something other,” Burkett says. The systems of rights and reciprocations we agree on in response should reflect this.
In the meantime, the initial inequity of anthropogenic climate change – that those who are most vulnerable are by and large the least responsible for creating the problem – is perpetuated as, at best, the displaced can only hope that someone lets them in.
Maxine Burkett spoke at the Wilson Center on June 22, 2016.
Nearly six months after the Paris climate agreement, the international community’s attention has shifted from celebration to implementation. Governments have begun outlining climate pledges in the form of intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs – which are fast becoming nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, as they begin influencing policy.
The composition and quality of individual INDCs and NDCs vary country to country. In this week’s podcast, Grzegorz Peszko, lead economist in the climate change group of the World Bank, outlines the types of plans submitted so far and how the World Bank is supporting implementation by individual governments.
The first type of INDC tends to be too qualitative and lacks the quantitative rigor expected, which Peszko says is often indicative of government capacity issues. “These countries usually request assistance in framing their targets,” he says. Additionally, mitigation is a common challenge for these governments, especially if they have developed a comparative advantage in fossil fuel exports or in energy-intensive industries.
The largest proportion of submitted plans, and the second type Peszko mentions, are the most aspirational in their objectives. They run the gamut of emission reductions, increasing renewables in the energy mix, energy efficiency, and energy transport. “What is common to them is they face a challenge of implementation,” he says. By including a laundry list of new technologies or aspirational goals without capacity or planning, these countries may struggle to reach their targets.
The last type has sophisticated targets that are also “investment ready” for financers like the World Bank, Peszko says. Yet, it’s also important these plans have an “incentive structure behind them,” with secondary regulations and an enforcement structure that “really changes the behavior of the people in a way that it makes sense to implement the law and behave in accordance to the law.”
Creating those incentives via regulations is the real challenge of harmonizing and strengthening climate pledges, says Peszko. The role of the government “is really to create this enabling policy framework” that is consistent with INDC and NDC targets.
“Governments never have one single instrument to achieve certain targets,” Peszko says. “There's always a bundle, a package of instruments that need to be tweaked on the margins to make a change.”
Grzegorz Peszko spoke at the Wilson Center on June 14, 2016.
In the months leading up to the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris last fall, expectations were high. And the result actually exceeded those expectations, in many respects, says Nick Mabey, director and chief executive at E3G, in this week’s podcast.
“We have stronger goals,” Mabey explains, and the agreement “puts adaptation and resilience on an equal footing to mitigation, so we like to say we now have a climate-risk management regime.”
After more than a decade monitoring the geopolitics and security implications of climate change and resource scarcity, Mabey and his colleagues at E3G believe this new regime to be more robust due to the “strong legal force and political backing of the agreement.”
However, the implications of climate-security issues remain under-examined in the foreign policy community. “Paris made us safer, but not safe,” Mabey says. “We've got a whole set of mixed drivers for complexity driving instability and social unrest.”
“There's not sustainable security without addressing climate and resource issues in forward planning,” he explains. “But I can tell you from talking to people in governments, none of that is in the current plans.”
One opportunity for improving the way climate-related security issues are accounted for may be the election of a new UN Secretary General. A successor to Ban Ki-moon will be chosen at the General Assembly later this year. Asking the candidates to address climate-security threats would continue the conversation and momentum.
The momentum created by Paris is fragile. Mabey says the core challenge is identifying and maintaining a coalition of countries who will continue to work toward a strengthened climate-security framework. “Unless we can point to a coalition of countries who want to see this happen, we will always be on the margins.”
Nick Mabey spoke at the Wilson Center on May 6, 2016.
As the dust settles on the newly minted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris climate agreement, countries have begun tackling operational questions aimed at limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius and ensuring peaceful, sustainable development.
“Paris and the SDGs really do define the landscape for better or for worse,” says Ken Conca, director of the Global Environmental Politics Program at American University, in this week’s podcast. In addition to operational questions at the country level, it remains to be seen how international institutions, like the United Nations, will adjust to the commitments and principles laid out in these agreements.
Conca said the existing United Nations mandate articulates a clear four-part mission: to promote peace, development, human rights, and international law. But “if you look at the history of environmental initiatives in the UN,” he says, “the UN really only stands on two of its four legs.” According to Conca, there is a lot of work on development and international law, but “until recently, there's been very little on peace and conflict and the environmental linkages.”
“If you really want to be able to do risk assessment in a whole of governance and strategic and forward-looking way, it requires a combination of institutional reform and political leadership,” Conca explains.
The few open, high profile conversations about climate change and security by the UN Security Council over the last decade were led by Britain (2007) and Germany (2011) as they rotated into the chairmanship. But those conversations, according to Conca have been highly contentious as well as rife with institutional jockeying and confusion. There is ongoing debate whether the responsibility for addressing climate-related security issues lies with the Framework Convention on Climate Change, a forum for climate negotiations, or the Security Council, which authorizes military actions and sanctions.
Regardless of which UN organization ultimately has primary responsibility, “it's going to be really important to have a capable and functional Security Council on the questions of climate change and international conflict,” Conca says.
Focusing on the ends rather than the means may help. Establishing and protecting rights could be a catalyst for effective implementation where institutional reform falls short. “To me, it's people as rights holders in the context of these challenges that really ultimately provides us with the political energy as opposed to the desired foresight of governments,” Conca says. “I think rights-based approaches really help us establish priorities.”
Ken Conca spoke at the Wilson Center on May 6, 2016.
Climate change has the potential to exacerbate conflict and political instability, and women will pay a steeper price than their male counterparts when it does, says Mayesha Alam, associate director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, in this week’s podcast.
Alam, co-author of a report released late last year on women, climate change, development, and security, said “women face specific gender-based vulnerabilities during armed conflict.” These include sexual violence and loss of property when communities disintegrate and resources become scarce.
“As a cross-cutting issue, climate change and environmental degradation intersect with population growth, human mobility, urbanization, and food-water-energy insecurity,” Alam explains. All of these issues have specific gender dimensions and “require tapping the potential and leadership in women and girls to have sustainable and scalable solutions.”
In many communities around the world, “women are already having to adapt their lives to survive and care for their dependents,” she says. Yet, “women are forgotten in terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives all too often.”
Many community-based women’s groups are responding to environmental challenges on their own. One example is the Sinsibere cooperative, a group of 300 women from a village south of Bamako, Mali. They work to stop local deforestation and develop climate resilience “by providing environmental education and alternative livelihoods for women, setting up micro-credit systems, and providing training in other trades.”
Broader national efforts to address the gender dimensions of climate change have been slower. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has been promoting Climate Change Gender Action Plans as a way to encourage states “to address their climate change and environmental degradation needs but also to address political instability, women's empowerment, and economic sustainability.” So far, only a dozen or so nations have taken up the challenge.
Mayesha Alam spoke at the Wilson Center on April 29, 2016.
“It's not about counting how many times a mother interacts with antenatal services or comes to the facility,” says Dr. Mariam Claeson, the director of maternal newborn and child health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in this week’s podcast. “But it's what happens in these encounters that matters.”
One month after the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Claeson and her colleagues in the maternal health community met in Mexico City at the 2015 Global Maternal and Newborn Health Conference. The conference marked the first opportunity for health and development advocates to take stock of the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals and discuss a common strategy for implementing the maternal health targets of the SDGs.
Improving and measuring quality of care, and not only quantity, was a major focus. For Claeson, such a “woman-centered” approach is best achieved with an integrative model of care – one that combines primary care, family planning services, reproductive health, and other entry points into the health system so women do not need to go to separate facilities for each. “We know,” she says, “that there is a very strong evidence base for why one should do integrative care, integrative measurement, and quality delivery.”
Since Mexico City, Claeson says that global partners have been gearing up “to think more systematically about quality across the continuum” as well as a “systems approach to quality and countries wanting to make that part of their broader national quality movement.”
“This is the first time,” Claeson continues, “we have countries committed to actually reducing...maternal and newborn mortality in the SDGs.” And, she says, thanks to Every Woman Every Child, a roadmap created by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010, “we have targets to monitor progress.”
In a month, many in the global maternal health community will descend on Copenhagen for Women Deliver 2016. The conference is a chance to further capitalize on momentum around the integrative model laid out in Mexico City.
Yet, Claeson warns that staying focused on women, girls, mothers, and newborns will require a larger effort. “It's not just the business of the health sector,” she says, “but how do we get other sectors to also stay focused when we talk about women and girls?”
Dr. Mariam Claeson spoke at the Wilson Center on April 13, 2016.
“Zika has made a long-standing public health crisis impossible to ignore,” says Chloë Cooney, director of global advocacy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in this week’s podcast.
Latin America is home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws; nearly 95 percent of the procedures are unsafe, Cooney says. Additionally, “there's an estimated 23 million women who have an unmet need for contraception.” Zika, primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, “demonstrates the critical need of government support for sexual and reproductive health care.” These issues are not new, she says, “but Zika makes the impact of them so much greater.”
The outbreak of the virus in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015 has put women in the spotlight, as some governments urge them to avoid pregnancy. National level maternal and reproductive health indicators in the region are not as bad some places in the world, but mask deep inequalities. “Women with the least ability to plan their families, with the least access to health care,” Cooney says, “generally will feel the impact of this outbreak the most.”
Addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, especially women, is fresh on the minds of those in the global health community tasked with achieving the newly minted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “The SDGs call on us to address inequities in development both across countries but also within countries,” says Cooney. “And I think that's so critical to Zika as we've been talking about where poor women face such a deep unmet need for sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
The virus continues to spread, and a study recently confirmed its link to microcephaly and other severe birth defects. The way countries in Latin America and North America respond in the coming months will be crucial. Family planning, Cooney says, should be a critical element.
“The U.S. response must include family planning and reproductive health,” Cooney argues, “along with maternal and child health support and attention to supporting families with children with microcephaly.”
The ability to decide if and when to have children is a basic human right, she says – “and yet it's not realized for so many women across the region, which this outbreak is making so crystal clear.”
Chloë Cooney spoke at the Wilson Center on April 12, 2016.
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Since its inception more than 60 years ago, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace has provided critical food assistance to billions of people around the world. Yet, despite its name, the office lacked an institutional strategy to address the effects of conflict on its work.
“Our last strategy, 10 years ago, noted the importance of addressing conflict shocks,” says Joan Whelan, a senior policy and learning officer at the office, on this week’s podcast. But “we struggled with how to integrate conflict into our framework. We are food security actors...We speak in a language of food security.”
Food for Peace’s funding reflects its core priorities. “The vast majority of our budgets,” according to Whelan, “are spent on meeting immediate, life-saving food nutrition needs of vulnerable populations in the midst of conflicts, natural disasters, other complex emergencies.”
“But,” says Whelan, “we also allocate approximately $400 million per year to longer-term resilience programs.” After a series of discussions with partners, both external and within USAID such as the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, a breakthrough began to emerge around this stream of funding and its potential to address conflict.
Food security – not peacebuilding – remains the program’s primary objective, according to Whelan. But a new framework allows Food for Peace to address issues that indirectly affect food security, including conflict prevention, livelihoods, financial inclusion, disaster risk-reduction, natural resource management, climate change adaptation, and more.
“Our new strategy is very resilience-focused,” says Whelan, which “means that we are carrying out work in ways that address food security risks that strengthen resilience capacities and create transformative opportunities.”
The strategy, she says, “gives us a space within our own universe to address conflict sensitivity and make sure that it's integrated into our work in ways that strengthen our ability to address conflict risk, that help to strengthen connectors in society, and reduce the dividers.”
Joan Whelan spoke at the Wilson Center on March 8, 2016.
Climate change is impacting the U.S. military in two major ways, explains Sharon Burke in this week’s podcast.
Burke, who served as the first assistant secretary of defense for operational energy from 2010 to 2014 and is now with the New America Foundation, says the Department of Defense has done a lot to consider how changing climate conditions will affect their equipment and facilities, but also their operations.
“The Department of Defense is a very large land owner in the U.S. and around the world,” Burke says. Facilities in arid climates such as those found in the Mojave Desert and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico are already seeing a variety of climate effects, including higher temperatures and drier conditions making it harder to train.
The military has also changed building codes, she says, “so that if you want to build new military construction, you have to take climate change into consideration.”
Beyond equipment and infrastructure, the other important way the U.S. military is adjusting to climate change is by planning for new missions. The Pentagon expects to be called on for more humanitarian and disaster relief operations; there may be new partnerships with allies to help their forces prepare; and new environments to deploy in.
The Arctic is a symbol of the military’s concerns, Burke says. The region is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, opening up new sea lanes and access to resources, and prompting Russia to make territorial claims. “It’s an operating environment, it's facilities and equipment, it's also missions, it's also geopolitics, and a geo-strategic interest,” she says. The region “engages every interest they have and they take it very seriously.”
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the military’s signature strategic document, calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” reflecting this concern. But where there’s room for growth is in this priority trickling down the chain of command.
“There's been a high level commitment on the issue,” says Burke, “but then if you look at how are they actually incorporating it and how they plan for the future, I think there's a lot of room to travel there.”
Sharon Burke spoke at the Society of Environmental Journalists 2015 Conference on October 9, 2015.
“Migration is a risk management strategy,” says Susan Martin, the Donald G. Herzberg professor of international migration at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, in this week’s podcast. “It's a way people have coped for millennia when the environment changes.” But climate change is forcing a new calculus on many households and communities who face a dynamic mix of economic, political, demographic, and environmental pressures.
“‘Migration’ can be a very positive thing for people,” says Martin, whereas “‘displacement’ may be positive in being lifesaving but not necessarily positive in terms of people's future wellbeing.”
Martin sees the dichotomy between migration and displacement through a series of climate-induced shifts in mobility patterns.
“Drought and rising sea levels are likely to lead to gradual movements of people,” she says. In fact, people manage these kinds of risks with anticipatory migration as environmental conditions decline. Often some family members “will stay and try to keep farming despite the drought,” while others “will move to cities or move to other countries in order to be able to diversify the sources of livelihood and sources of support for the family.”
Acute natural disasters and competition over dwindling resources “will more likely lead to emergency displacement,” Martin says, and it is during these events where community resilience and vulnerability play out in critical ways.
At-risk and vulnerable groups who cannot adapt as quickly will lose out on the positive aspects of migration as an adaptation strategy. “Research is showing only those with existing resilience possibilities and lesser levels of vulnerability are likely to benefit from even anticipatory migration,” Martin says.
Government policies have a part to play in building resilience – or, conversely, exacerbating vulnerabilities. National governments have been slow to adopt legal frameworks that address these issues. “If there are no legal ways you can move,” Martin says, “whether it's internal or international, the chances are people are going to be at significantly higher risk.”
Susan Martin spoke at a private event at the Wilson Center on August 31, 2015.