Climate change & climate protection

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Climate change and security

The analysis and evaluation of the medium- and longer-term indirect consequences of climate change – a deterioration in the bases of life resulting from inadequate food supply or withdrawal from flooded coastal regions – have been on the scientific research agenda for many years, but only a few aspects have thus far found their way onto the agenda of political decision-makers. This has been true especially since financial and economic topics have dominated political discussion.

Migration as a strategy for adapting to environmental changes

Regardless of how they are organised socially, human beings confronted with deteriorating environmental conditions have only two basic options for responding: either to correct the causes of the deterioration or to adapt continually as the situation changes. In practice, efforts to respond often turn into a two-fold strategy involving a combination of elements from both options. What will be the most probable response in cases where changes in environmental conditions can be influenced at best over a very long period and exceed societal groups' ability to adapt or continually exacerbate disparities in the distribution of prosperity: that they will shift the focus of their existence to geographic areas offering actually or supposedly better living conditions. From a historical perspective, migration has always been a strategy for surviving by escaping from desperate situations. So it is also plausible today that a severe, lasting deterioration of environmental conditions – particularly in regions with growing populations – should give rise to growing migratory pressure. This phenomenon, in turn, has the potential to threaten other societies.

Climate change and security issues

In the discussion regarding climate change, it is the task of the natural sciences to inform political decision-makers about the changing probabilities of meteorological parameters and shed light on their causes. For example, the status report of the World Meteorological Organisation, "The Global Climate 2001–2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes" raised highly relevant questions.  Climate-model-based scenario simulations conducted in earlier decades had already indicated that an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could lead to regionally varying changes in weather extremes due to the gases' direct and indirect radiative forcing. Working on this basis, initial studies from as far back as the 1970s pointed to global security issues as a possible new consequence of anthropogenic climate change. The subject of climate change and security was elevated to the official political agenda in Toronto in 1988 as part of an international scientific and political conference supported by the then Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney: "The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security". In the ensuing years, this issue was repeatedly the object of interdisciplinary research and also taken up in political discussions and consultations.

Socio-economic effects in developing/emerging countries

Regardless of whether event-driven or imperceptibly gradual, a climate-change-induced deterioration in many people's livelihoods makes it highly probable that migratory pressure will continue to rise in the coming decades. This applies particularly to developing and emerging countries which, because of their already relatively weak economic situation, are unable to adapt adequately to degradation of the food supply or a problem such as the rising sea level, as they lack the strength to adapt.  

For example, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that about 24 million people around the globe had fled from their homes due to flooding, famine and other environmental catastrophes back in 2005.  The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva expects that the number of climate-related migrants could grow to 200 million by the year 2050. Since the term "climate-related migrants" has not yet been precisely defined, the figures cited above may be considered merely an indication, yet do convey an impression of the scope of disaster-related migrations. After analysing numerous scenarios for climate-related migration up until 2009, an EU-funded study concluded that: "Environmental impacts will undoubtedly affect an increasing number of communities and become a major push factor for displacement. Therefore it is important to rapidly address, at the policy level, the issue of environmental migrants/refugees".

Since streams of refugees have multiple causes, often resulting from a wide variety of economic, political and ecological challenges, categorising them by cause ranges from difficult to impossible. At the present time, it is probably still safe to assume that economic and political constraints dominate the push-and-pull factors determining worldwide refugee streams. For how much longer?

Climate change and liability issues

To date, the issue of liability under international or private law for the consequences of climate change has not been conclusively resolved. Attempts by individuals and groups of people to sue industrial groups have hitherto met with failure. Of course, the insurance industry is following trends in court decisions in this area with the keenest attention. Thus far, there has been no case that has really tested whether and how international liability claims based on the consequences of climate change would be settled. The lodging of a liability claim based on a country's impaired security interests due to migratory movements resulting from climate change would in any case open up entirely new dimensions.

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