Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects factors that may affect the Arctic region through current geopolitical system in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The Arctic is currently one of the most stable geopolitical regions in the world, supporting both bilateral agreements and multinational cooperation. As the Great Game moves to the high north, there will be an emerging background of strategic competition. In its current form, the Arctic Council (AC) has limited ability to ensure that cooperation and coordination are sustained. However, expansion or contraction of the AC’s role could have a destabilizing effect on the region and lead to the displacement of the current geopolitical system.
A stronger AC could become an authority for mitigating geopolitical competition, but this would require Arctic Nations to give up some of their unilateral and even bilateral pursuits, while also being constrained by legal agreements. The strategic and economic opportunities in the Arctic are far too significant for US and Russia to support the development of a superior legal authority. Oversight of military operations is a strict no-go for the US and could lead to the US distancing itself from the AC. This would grant Russia and China more political power to pursue their interests in the region.
If a stronger AC uses its power to manage resource extraction or sea routes, it would see push back from Russia, who has already invested heavily in the region as part of their national strategy. Further, because Russia is a political outlier, the Allied nations could use the AC as a means to constrain Russian efforts. This might force Russia to take a more enclosed approach in the Arctic.
In contrast, decreasing the AC’s role could also undermine the geopolitical stability in the region. Funding for the AC is already sparse, which severely constrains its ability operate at full capacity. If the role of the AC is reduced further, then it would become irrelevant. Devoid of a collaborative forum, the Arctic Nations could split into two camps: the US, Canada, and Western Europe on one side, and Russia and China on the other. An open Arctic would begin to enclose, starting a slippery slope to a Polar Cold War.
Even if the AC's current role is sustained, other factors could lead to the displacement of the current system. As bilateral agreements between Russia and China continue to grow, or even expand into military cooperation, western nations could seek economic, political, and military pressures that limit Russia-China activities. China’s Polar Silk Road initiatives will lead to the expansion of bilateral agreements with European nations, while also increasing tension with the US.
Russian military operations will create more tension in the region, but the US and Western Europe will be limited in their ability to respond. Although the US has the most powerful military in the world, its ability to operate in the region is limited because it has not invested in Arctic ports or polar-fit military bases and vessels, which take years to develop. NATO’s interest in the region could also increase, alienating Russia and China while hastening the militarization and destabilization of the region.
As the great game moves to the Arctic competition in the region will heat up. Arctic nations will have to choose between an Arctic that is open for the common good, as it is now, or an Arctic that is enclosed and focused on national interests. Maintaining the Arctic as a common good could lead to the call for a stronger governing body in the Arctic region, especially by smaller Arctic Nations and observer Nations. However, Russia’s continued petitioning to the UN to increase its territorial claim is a signal that a more enclosed Arctic will exist in the future.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the effect of migration on international relations in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
International migration has the potential to affect international relationships almost by definition. When the citizen of one state travels into the borders of another, they are foreigners and outside the safety of the home country. International embassies and consulates developed to protect citizens who are abroad, and infringements to the rights of a citizen of one state by the host state can lead to a souring of relations. This has happened recently with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. The Chinese government arrested two Canadian citizens and put sanctions on Canadian canola exports in retaliation. However, it is important to note, as is stressed previously, that migration rarely exists without an institutional context. Migration may affect international relationships, but this presupposes an existing agreement that facilitates the movement of people between two or more states.
The influence of individual migrants on international relationships between states is often negligible in comparison to the actions taken on the state level. Migrants present an opportunity – nation-states can use migrants within their borders to advance their interests. Migrants are instrumentalized for economic gain, as in the case of South Korea. The migrant population in South Korea has grown from roughly 40,000 in the early 1990s to about 2 million today through various labour movement programs and marriage migration programs. These migrants have created of a class of multi-lingual and culturally fluid “Kosians” (a portmanteau of Korean and Asian) and naturalized non-ethnic Koreans. The Korean state has used these migrants to bridge economic relationships between Korea and other states.
Instrumentalization happens in other ways as well. Migrants can be used as pawns for international power plays, demonstrated by the E.U.-Turkey deal in 2016. The deal presented a way to put a stop to flows of migration for European states under duress. Turkey agreed to control the refugees going from Turkey to the Greek Islands. In response, the European Union pledged an initial €3 billion to Turkey. Additionally, there was a political component that reconfigured international relationships, such as visa-free travel into E.U. states for citizens of Turkey and new talks for Turkey’s membership into the European Union.
Top-down state policy can instrumentalize migrants to change international relationships, but contemporary events have shown that migrants change international relationships from the bottom-up as well. The response to migrations have led to nationalist movements across the European continent and in the United States by political movements largely categorized as the New Right or the Alt Right. These political movements have gained traction, partially motivated by an anxiety of the international migrant. Contemporary political events like Brexit and the election of President Trump, who campaigned against international free trade deals like NAFTA, are signals of an emerging and contentious vision of the world order. This new vision of the world challenges the normative liberal world order, the latter with its large trade blocs like the European Union that facilitate free movement of capital and labour.
Migrants and migration are able to influence international relationships between state actors, both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. States can actively utilize migrants to advance their interests; however, they are at the same time beholden to their citizens. Migration has proven to be a contentious issue in recent times, and recent political movements have reconfigured international relationships from the bottom up.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects technologies that could be likely helpful to climate change challenge. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Some people call them a shot in the dark. Others insist they’re escapist fantasy. For others, they’re the saviors we can’t ignore. Regardless of what words you use, negative emissions technologies demand our attention. An emerging area of research and development, they continue to dangle real potential to change the climate adaptation game.
In case you’ve yet to hear of them, here’s a brief definition. Also known as ‘carbon dioxide removal systems,’ negative emissions technologies are tools to extract CO2, one of the biggest contributors to global warming, from the atmosphere.
Their allure has multiple dimensions. Many acknowledge that as we move towards a net-zero or even net-negative world, halting all carbon emissions both immediately and in the long term is a daunting task. The primary avenues for achieving those goals lie in widespread adoption of more renewable energy and green technology systems. Due to widespread political, economic and cultural issues, however, many carbon drawdown plans recommend continuing certain sources of carbon use for certain periods of time, in the hopes of enabling smoother transitions. That carbon emitted now could be extracted from the atmosphere later presents a comforting prospect, that we could live in a world where the process of addressing climate change could be achieved through less disruptive means.
While they sound too good to be true, negative emissions technologies are no fantasy. They currently exist. From bioenergy generation to direct air capture to biochar, these tools have been proven to extract atmosphere CO2. At present, however, the processes are very energy intensive, making the tools prohibitively expensive as blanket go-to strategies for effective sequestration at actionable scales.
New research could change that. For example, Wil Srubar, and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has recently developed techniques to replace cement in concrete with cyanobacteria. As construction is one of the most heavily polluting industries, and cement in particular emits huge amounts of of CO2 every year, this innovation presents opportunities for real positive change. Because cyanobacteria is a common class of microbe that captures energy through photosynthesis, this new type of concrete passively absorbs carbon from its surroundings. If the technology is scaled - and it is receiving considerable attention from large scale funders already - it could create buildings and cities capable of becoming not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Imagine a city where all substrates and surfaces function like a forest, with carbon sinks cropping up wherever human development exists.
Despite its many potential benefits, the technology would be no silver bullet. Indeed, it could feasibly enact even more complex and dangerous repercussions. Introducing living organisms into uncontrolled urban environments stands the very real chance of creating lethal externalities, from the emergence of previously unseen diseases to new vulnerabilities in essential support systems. Were bio-hacked cyanobacteria to become the building blocks of our cities, it stands to reason that new, uncontrollable mutations might well cause unanticipated and widespread havoc, both domestically and across the globe.
Yet perhaps the most compelling risk that negative emissions present is one of human complacency. If we find ways to extract carbon from our atmosphere, what’s to prevent us from continuing to produce more carbon, methane and other problematic substances, failing to curb the practices that result in greater climatic uncertainty in the first place?
To provide more help than harm, negative emissions must be implemented in conjunction with more cohesive energy efficient and net carbon neutral efforts across our borders. Technology alone is not enough to save us. With restraint, international coordination and thoughtful implementation, we stand a far better chance.
Carl Michael reviews the institutional base ofBelt and Road Initiative in his fourth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The primary institutional base underpinning the BRI is provided by the three interlocking branches of political power in China. The Communist Party of China (CPC), the State Council and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The CPC continues the long tradition of a unified Confucian ruling entity, which seeks to represent the interests of the whole of society, in comparison with a Western-style political party approach. Chinese governments are expected to cope with the challenges posed by a huge population and vast territory, ostensibly shaping a political culture characterized by valuing a longer-term vision, a more holistic perception of politics which places high value on the country’s overall stability and prosperity. This single-party approach, embodied by the CPC, is often contrasted with the impact of change of central government every few years in multi-party democratic systems as well as the national chaos following China’s 1911 revolution which sought a Western political model. The CPC exercises oversight of the BRI through the Central Foreign Affairs Commission.
The State Council on the other hand is the chief administrative authority in China and it exercises authority over the BRI through cabinet-level bodies such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce which is responsible for foreign trade policy and agreements and foreign direct investment. These bodies and their predecessors were instrumental in China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.
Chief among the financial institutes which underpin BRI activities is the government-owned China Development Bank (CDB). It is one of the most powerful banks in the world and has been crucial in transforming China’s economy and competitiveness. Even though other national development banks have financed political projects and favoured industries that private investors would eschew; never has such an institution existed with so much capital and financial capability with control delivered into the hands of one body, the CPC. The rise of Chinese capital availability overseas is an ever-increasing trend facilitated by the CDB which specializes in financing infrastructure, energy and transportation. In this it is complimented by the Exim Bank of China which specializes in financing trade, investment and economic cooperation; and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, whose starting capital and credit ratings have made it a rival to the World Bank, ADB and the IMF. In addition to these banks, the government-owned Silk Road Fund fosters increased investment in countries participating in the BRI.
Any understanding of the institutional base of the BRI would be incomplete without considering the role of the Chinese PLA, which is the largest military force in the world. The recent growth of the PLA’s global power projection capabilities and strategic nuclear missile capabilities has been noteworthy. Local conditions in many BRI areas are highly unstable and scenarios where China may require the PLA to protect its interests beyond its borders are not unrealistic. As China’s growth has moved it along the path to becoming a true maritime power, so also has the PLA navy expanded its global reach with the acquisition of aircraft carriers, carrier-killer missiles and overseas bases. The perception of the PLA as being the armed wing of the CPC means the PLA’s deployment abroad is extremely sensitive in nature.
There is concern regarding the rise of a global player with an institutional base such as China’s. The justifiable unease in many parts of the world arises from the links between its national mission, power projection capabilities and political system. If this unease is not alleviated, the BRI could be perceived as a neo-colonial form of tributary diplomacy even as China works to reinstate its rightful civilisational place in the world order.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program reviews the history of Heartland power in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Events over the past thirty years have shaped the current geopolitical environment of Eurasia’s Heartland. From the collapse of the former Soviet Union to struggles for influence, power assertion, or empowerment following the Cold War, these events signal high stakes for Russia, the U.S., and China. They inform possibilities for a world-power pivot.
The collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 ended the Cold War and left Russia trying to expand her influence throughout a fragmented Heartland. As some post-Soviet Eastern European countries pursued new visions of independence, Russia looked back to the former Soviet Empire’s past glory. From the early 1990’s, she organized or joined bilateral regional organizations to promote the security, economic, and or political interests of Eurasian member states. In 2008 and in later years, she supported separatist regions in other Heartland countries to ensure their dependence on her for their economic and political development. In 2014, she annexed Crimea from Ukraine, strengthening Russia’s military influence through uninterrupted access to the Black Sea. Over time, Russia expanded her influence throughout the Heartland, though at the cost of leaving it fragmented.
Winning the Cold War propelled the U.S. forward with momentum to chase an elusive goal of fully asserting her power to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation. She waged a war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001 after the devastating 9/11 attacks on the U.S. She invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein when he continued to defy U.S. containment strategies intended to stop his ruthless dictatorship. She provided security and economic assistance to Central Asian countries in exchange for access to their military bases and air space. Yet, despite the interventions, containment strategies, and attempts to establish a long-term U.S. military presence in the region, the U.S. fell short of her goal. Unable to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation for a full power assertion, the U.S. lost much of her influence in the Middle East and in Central Asia.
China’s Cold War pivot away from the former USSR and towards the U.S. empowered China to extend her reach into the Heartland. Aligning her economic interests with the U.S. gave rise to China’s growth from foreign investment and trade. Undeterred by the global financial crisis of 2008, she looked to new possibilities for trading Chinese goods across Afro-Eurasia along a New Silk Road. Through increased investments in foreign infrastructure development, China began improving trade routes. Later, she announced plans for a One Belt One Road international market system or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, revealing a competing interest in the Heartland. The 2015 announcement of her “Made in China 2025” strategic plan further revealed her ambitions for economic growth through technological capabilities. A high-speed rail system, for example, would support the BRI and an empowered China’s extended reach into the Heartland.
Post 20th-Century Cold War, the U.S. faces a high-stakes change in geopolitical power rivalry for the Heartland. Having lost her influence in Central Asia and in the Middle East, the U.S. seemingly has conceded vying for Heartland control. Instead, her focus is on containing Russia and China as these two civilizational states increasingly shape Heartland power. For Russia, it’s a matter of uniting Afro-Eurasia in Eurasian solidarity. For China, it’s a matter of integrating Central Asia and parts of the Middle East into her sphere of influence. Could these and other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Heartland? Any number of possible futures could unfold.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the preparedness of Asia for demographic changes in his third post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Among the most significant determinants of an Asian Century is demographics. The expectations and behaviors of a nation’s people—driven in part by attributes that can be measured in aggregate, like age—influence economic performance and political dynamics. Projected declines in the working age populations in East Asia present a major challenge to maintaining their gravitas. Meanwhile, the rest of the continent generally has a much better outlook, at least in terms of potentially productive youth. Immigration policies that succeed in overcoming ideological intolerance may be the key to sustaining Asia’s rise to global dominance.
Japan is a preview of what could potentially happen at a different scale for its neighbors. The archipelago nation is now selling more adult diapers than baby diapers in supermarkets. The increased spending on healthcare that comes with this age demographic inversion is unsustainable with a simultaneously shrinking workforce and tax base. Japan recognizes that efforts to raise its fertility rate will not be sufficient to address the problems already emerging. Longevity of life is coming to also mean longevity of work-life well beyond the age of 60. Automation of care is being developed, where possible, to lower the costs of the ballooning system. It is yet to be seen whether this will be a successful formula for saving the nation’s economy.
China is taking a different approach. Demographic data shows their working population shrinking and the trend portends a net population decline starting as soon as 2032. Like Japan, China has started offering cash bonuses and subsidies to encourage more births, but it is unlikely that this will be enough to cover the dearth of young people to care for the elderly in the short term. Nor will automation of such services soon be ready to take on the task at scale. Instead, China is bolstering its economy by moving the value chain from the Middle Kingdom to tributary states in Central, South, and Southeast Asia through its Belt and Road Initiative. In a time of national economic war, however, it is not unthinkable that some of these target states may attempt to limit the extent to which others draw on their resources.
Migration will increasingly be a flashpoint as Asian demographics change. Cultural similarities make Southeast Asia the clearest option from which China and Japan could draw human capital, or at least extract the output. China is adamant that newcomers assimilate to their norms, an approach that may need to be loosened in light of its expanding global reach. India’s government, particularly in the case of Muslims, seems determined to reject even its own over ideological differences. West and Central Asia have growing populations that could strengthen the Asian position but are better poised to bolster Russian and European populations, even though immigration policies in both destinations are lacking. All of these tensions will escalate if regimes do not adapt quickly enough to the inevitable changes in their constituencies.
Asian nations, on the whole, are unprepared for what lies ahead demographically. Economic and social policies are slowly and insufficiently trying to adapt to a future in which families are small and the old outnumber the young. Regimes attempting to unilaterally solve for these shifts without sufficient regard for pressures beyond their centralized control, like accelerated migration, will face the most serious challenge. While some nations may have more reason to be optimistic, they will need to be ready to compete to keep their workforce from migrating to other more attractive markets. If an Asian Century does come to pass, one thing is certain: it will be with a populace that looks quite different than the one we know today.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the preparedness of Africa for disruptive climate change in her third blog post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Disruptive climate change is not a mere interruption coming in the distant future. Disruptive climate change is already alive in Africa. It brings devastation to the geography and deadly impacts on African people and wildlife. The coming decades will undoubtedly usher in unprecedented shifts and unthinkable outcomes dramatically affecting the African land, people, and wildlife. Climate destruction encircled (and continues to encircle) Africa in recent history. The cyclones of 2018 impacted individuals living in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe; and, the threat of cyclones continues. The Indian Ocean is warming, and the warming is associated with more significant rainfall in East Africa. Because of the rain, Central Africa experiences unparalleled moisture leading to issues of flooding. Tens of thousands of people living in the regions where the massive flooding occurs resettle to other areas; and resettlement brings its own set of challenges. All-encompassing dust storms overtake regions of the continent. And, think of the global impacts of losing the Congo Rainforest.
Africa is estimated to have only contributed 3-5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but Africa is feeling the brunt of the climate consequences. The disruptive climate change consequences that Africa experiences are primarily spurred on by variables outside the scope of African decisions – including both state and non-state actors. Variables include global policy adherence, state policy development, multinational corporation (MNC) decisions, behaviors of consumers, just to name a few. Within this context, can Africa prepare for further disruptive climate change by 2050? A primary distinction between Africa and other global players is the sheer level of poverty that exists. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, finds itself in extreme poverty without the resources of foreign actors to take precautions and make preparations for climate disruption. In 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will need $50 billion each year to handle the estimated climate disruption. Yet, present poverty serves as a limiting force that impacts the options available to African leaders.
Impacts of disruptive climate change in Africa include millions of individuals starving from drought in some regions and other areas people are displaced due to flooding. People who are displaced experience life-altering situations. Displacement welcomes the spread infections due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure, causes a reliance on camp-style temporary shelters, and obstructs access to healthcare. Displacement reduces the grazing and water offered to animals and forces farmers in disaster areas to make tough decisions such as slaughtering their source of income and nutrition. Displacement is merely one rabbit hole to travel down. Think of the carbon considerations that accompany losing the Congo Rainforest. As the second largest global rainforest system, the Congo Rainforest represents 18% of the earth’s rainforests. Or, think of economic impacts that accompany the flooding due to rising sea levels of urban centers situated along the African coast.
Africa in 2050 does not have to be earmarked as a climate change dystopia. The decisions that leaders, both in Africa and globally, make now will dramatically shape the African experience in 2050. Within the continent, African leaders and governments may opt to co-create effective local solutions and teach adaptability to communities. African leaders may innovate around renewable energy production, agricultural developments, agroforestry work, and smart city urbanization. Consider the benefits that may arise from intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. As leaders seek to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050, safeguarding the continent relies heavily on the decisions and actions of current leaders.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program continues his futuristic exploration to the Arctic region in his third post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The Arctic region is currently demilitarized, largely un-commercialized and has limited infrastructure. Currently the Arctic Council has limited ability to balance new economic developments, environmental protection, and geopolitical competition. The council’s role will remain limited with a focus on ensuring that transportation, resource extraction, and scientific exploration remain safe and open. However, if an expanded scope of governance does not emerge in the region, there will be growing tensions over military exercises, resource ownership, and environmental stewardship.
Arctic Sea Route usage will continue to grow, especially along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap. Russia will expand its already dominant capabilities by increasing the capacity of sea routes to harbor more foreign flag ships. Cooperation between Russia and China, as part of the Arctic Silk Road, will increase shipping infrastructure development and resource extraction projects. Shipping transit fees will allow Russia to diversify its economy away from energy resources and circumvent US sanctions. As the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Routes open, shipping will be diverted away from the Panama Canal and Suez Canal trade routes, resulting in decreased shipping time and cost from East to West coast of US, and from Northeast Asia into Northern Europe, US, and Canada.
Military operations will expand to increase “security” in the region. The US will seek a renewed military interest in the Bering Straits and the GUIK as strategic choke points in response to increased Russian and Chinese activity. This will require the US to develop new military bases and vessels, while increasing military cooperation with their allies. Other Arctic states will need to adjust and adapt to the growing tension, increasing the likelihood that NATO will be invited by Norway and Iceland to play a more significant role in maintaining stability in the region. Rising military tensions will be buffered by economic and natural resource interests.
Resource Extraction is currently constrained by profitability, limited Infrastructure, and safety concerns. Ice-free summers will allow the development of new infrastructure to support mining operations. Low oil costs, larger ships, and decreased shipping time will increase the financial and logistical feasibility of natural resource extraction.
The drive for oil and gas resources in the region will continue to be stalled by a complex cost-benefit analysis equation. Globally, countries will expand their renewable energy demand, reducing the pressures on oil and gas production. Arctic resources will be an essential part of Russian geopolitical strategy and outside investment will expand their oil and gas developments. These developments will initially be slowed by Arctic State environmental concerns and western sanctions, but will speed up as Russia expands its commercial infrastructure in the region.
Fisheries will continue to adapt to the warming waters, driving fish north. Fishing vessels will brave climate challenges to chase fish migrations, resulting in conflicts in EEZ. The Increase in fisheries micro-conflicts will challenge the durability of the Arctic Council.
International cooperation on scientific research in the region will grow in importance. Scientific exploration will increase the development of polar-fit stations, technology and communication systems. The strategic location of the Arctic for satellite access will lead to the development of polar stations for collecting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data. More accurate science and data will support infrastructure development and investment decisions, while also growing the connection between science, business and policy. China will become a bigger player in the region as it expands its Arctic research partnerships.
Publicly Arctic nations will continue to support a de-politicized, de-militarized and consensus-based approach to activity in the region. At the same time, strategic competition will increase as military exercises expand, commercial activity infrastructure develops, economic and scientific partnerships are formed, and EEZ resource ownership is disputed. Open communication and open seas, within a backdrop of increasing military presence, will be essential ingredients in maintaining stability and security in the region. If cooperation remains beneficial and increases resilience, then it will be sustained. If not, then geo-political competition could act to destabilize the Arctic region.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the future drivers of migration in his third post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
What are drivers of migration in the future? There is one large difference from the past. This is on the tip of everybody’s tongue: climate change. We will take a critical look at this new driver of migration. It will complicate some of the narratives surrounding climate change related migrations, and we will consider some of the ultimate implications (and destinations).
Climate change holds the threat of ecological devastation and a radical global transformation — it is no wonder that it has occupied the popular imagination and mainstream political discourse in recent years. Climate change has been linked with migrations all over the world, whether in Central America or Bangladesh. Headlines like “Climate Change will Create World’s Biggest Refugee Crisis” litter the contemporary mediascape. The Guardian, in the aforementioned article, suggests that “tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes.” This is a moderate estimate; in the extreme end, there is Vice with the headline “Climate Change Will Create 1.5 Billion Migrants by 2050 and We Have No Idea Where They'll Go” painting an apocalyptic scenario. In response, the first global movements have begun to protect the image of the climate migrant. In a very recent landmark ruling in January 2020, the United Nations human rights committee has declared that it is unlawful for governments to return migrants whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change.
The Syrian civil war has been linked to climate change as well. The Syrian civil war began as Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests that were met with violent repression. This was the catalyst for further escalation. What sparked the initial discontentment? From a climate change lens, the narrative points to the drought from 2006 to 2011. This was the most severe in recorded history and decimated the livelihoods of the rural population. The drought led to a rural-urban migration, increasing competition for resources, and leading to conflict that took on an ethnic dimension.
This has not gone without scrutiny. Other researchers have pointed to policies of economic liberalization that cut rural subsidies and ultimately put farmers in debt. Government policies have led to the rural-urban migration in this narrative. It is beyond our scope to recount the play-by-play of academics in their boxing ring. It suffices to say that migratory events are complex and multi-factored. Climate change is undoubtedly an important consideration, but there is no First Cause when it comes to migration. A critical view on other migratory factors like internal politics and wealth concentration in urban areas allows a more nuanced perspective on contemporary migrations.
In the discourse of the climate change migrant in the West, there is mixed in an image of anxiety and fear. How will the West survive the flood of climate migrants? However, the West is far from a stoic Atlas that carries the burden of global migrations on its shoulders. The case of Syrian refugees presents a poignant demonstration.
Despite popular political narratives, most Syrian refugees have been relocated outside of Europe. As with other migrations, most of the migrants were displaced internally. Seven million of the 13 million are still within Syrian borders. In terms of international migration, there are roughly 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, 950 thousand in Lebanon, and 670 thousand are housed in Jordan. Germany accepted 593 thousand Syrians, and this is followed by Iraq with 252 thousand. While this may not be representative of all migrations, the case of the Syrian migrations seems to suggest that not all roads lead to Europe.
As a conclusion, what are the drivers of future migration, and what are the consequences? In response to popular narratives, the article answered in the negative: climate change is not the Prime Mover in migration, and one must be aware of the erasure of other migratory factors when this occurs. Migrations in the future will not overwhelm the West. As with contemporary migratory patterns, one will expect internal migrations to occupy a large portion. External migrations will be distributed throughout the region, and will not be concentrated solely in the West.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program assumes that global climate will be warmer and its consequences increasingly extreme in 2050. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Over the last quarter century, climate change impacts have grown in scope and scale. Global temperatures rose by two degrees Celsius since the 19th century, a tremendous change given the amount of energy it takes to raise earth’s average surface temperature even a small amount. The seemingly small increase has resulted in drastic effects, from more horrific hurricanes to hotter temperatures to wildfires more destructive than anything recorded history has seen. How these shifts will play out over time is something beyond predictive capability - there are too many influencing events and inputs beyond our control. Even with the best research and foresight techniques, conditions will change in ways we can’t fully anticipate.
Despite that uncertainty, there are a few emergent trends on which scientists increasingly agree. For starters, global temperatures will continue to rise. Cities like New York will soon have dramatically longer and hotter summers, with the number of days above 32 degrees Celsius slated to more than double by 2050. In a region like metropolitan New York, where hot weather comes with significant humidity, such high temperatures over prolonged periods will result not just in serious impacts to human health and well being, but also damage to the essential myriad systems that rely on ambient air cooling, like HVAC systems and electrical grids. CO2 levels associated with those kinds of temperature increases could easily range from 550 to 600pm, up from the roughly 420ppm levels of today. Those amounts of CO2 would directly result in decreased nutrient levels in agricultural production, spikes in pollution related deaths, and widespread slowing of human cognitive function.
Hotter temperatures will also lead to rising seas. Sea levels are likely to rise at least 38cm within the next thirty years, with those numbers quite possibly reaching 100cm in certain areas. Under those conditions, coastal centers like South Beach in Miami would lie underwater. Entire regions, such as greater Bangkok and the low-lying areas of southern Bangladesh, would sit below annual flood levels, placing millions of people at risk and sparking mass migration across the globe. Wealthier areas like the Netherlands and coastal England will likewise face mounting pressure, with growing swaths of land lying fully inundated for greater periods of time.
But rising seas mean more than higher oceans. The climatic changes that bring sea level rise also result in stronger storms, more intense rainfall, and bigger storm surge. Areas shaped by major rivers, like development along the Mississippi River Valley, will experience increasingly frequent flooding. Without intense intervention or adoption of new approaches to living with water, these regions will see higher levels of deluge, with daily life interrupted on more regular bases for hundreds of thousands of people.
In more arid areas, rising temperatures are slated to bring both more intense rainfall as well as drought. When drought arrives, it will last longer. When rain comes, it will fall harder over shorter periods. The droughts will leave ground more compacted, making it harder for rain to absorb into soils and increasing the likeliness of mudslide. They will also make areas more vulnerable to wildfire. By 2050, the events that have recently wracked Australia with previously unseen levels of devastation will become much more common. From California to the front range of Colorado to Spain and beyond, longer and more dangerous fire seasons will become the norm.
While the precise dates and degrees of change remain a mystery, the general trends are clear – global climate in 2050 will be warmer and its consequences increasingly more extreme.