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Event Report: Center for American ProgressÂ’s Presentation Climate Change, Migration, & Conflict in Northwest Africa

The opening speaker was Distinguished Senior Fellow of Center for American Progress, Senator Tom Daschle. He opened by discussing the security implications of climate change, reiterating how the moving to new lands causes conflict by increasing instability. These conflicts will all have multiple ramifications for the international community including deterring the private sector from investing in these countries, as well as precipitating the need for US military interventions to resolve the conflicts. He then used Bangladesh and India as a potential example of the interplay between climate change, migration, and conflict. He labeled this area a “Hot Spot” because if Bangladesh were to flood, which can likely happen due to climate change, it would cause hundreds of thousands of people to migrate into India. This migration would introduce new diseases and spark religious conflict. 

After discussing this example he moved his discourse to Africa. He briefly explained that their panel would be discussing this issue in its relation to Northwest Africa. He stated that Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco make up an “Arc of Tension”, because of their vulnerability to climate change’s effect on migration and conflict. 

Mr. Daschle finished his speech by briefly describing that a new US strategy was needed which addresses the long term issues and that although the current presidential administration has made some progress in addressing climate change issues, there still exists a large amount of American politicians that are against it. 

After Daschle’s statement, the moderator, Marcus D King, introduced the 3 panelists and each of them made opening statements. The first panelist was Dr. Kit Batten, the Global Climate Change Coordinator for USAID. She began by discussing how USAID is currently working in Africa to support democratic movements to deal with climate change. Their strategy is to improve other countries’ adaptive infrastructure and water management.  Throughout her speech she repeatedly emphasized that climate change is just one factor of the complex problems that leads to conflicts in these areas, other factors include social, political, and economic dynamics. For example, weak, corrupt, and fragile states allow for climate change to have such serious effects on communities. 

She then stressed that we are still learning about the relationships between all of these factors and cautioned drawing conclusions too soon.  She brought up that climate change does not always cause migration, because it can be expensive to migrate, and many people who do migrate eventually move back to their original land. She finished her statement by highlighting one of USAID’s programs in Ethiopia where they are working with pastoralists on new strategies for dealing with climate change and conflict issues. 

The next speaker was Sherri Goodman, the Senior Vice President , General Counsel Corporate Secretary of CAN and Executive Director of the CAN Military Advisory Board. She began by stating how it has now become mainstream in the US Security Department and other US departments to consider climate change when making military decisions. She then reemphasized the importance of population growth and how that will put strain on already limited resources and further drive development needs. After that she discussed migration, pointing out that it is difficult to determine where humans will migrate to since all migration is not same. Some are natural human paths while others can be caused by climate change.  Once she finished speaking on migration, Ms Goodman ended her statement with 3 policy recommendations: 1) decrease the risk of displacement through proper development, diplomacy, and planning, 2) reduce illegal immigration, and 3) conduct additional research to better understand the conditions at play. 

The final panelist was Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. In his statement he emphasized that the set up of the US military has not changed enough from the model it followed during the Cold War. He encouraged a shift away from this dated structure in order to account for the radical changes in society since that time, saying the world has become much more complex and interconnected. He then emphasized that although they don’t fully understand the relationships between climate change, migration, and conflict, we should not let that stop us from acting using “prudent planning” to take action.

Once the statements were finished Dr.  King asked a few questions. His first one asked what NATO’s role should be in this conflict. Ms. Goodman responded by saying that NATO is mostly a military organization and that the issue should not be looked at as a security issue alone. She did however believe that Europe should be involved and that their actions should be transparent. 

Dr. King then asked the panel to comment on what he described a “competition of helping” from other countries in Africa. They responded by pointing out that the Chinese have gotten involved in infrastructure investment and that Brazil also has a strong presence in Africa. Dr. Batton believed that the US is often unique in that it does a lot of technical assistance to help countries understand what’s going on in their country. She emphasized that the US can help those countries to help themselves. All the panelists agreed that foreign policy is going to be more collaborative in the future. 

Dr. King then opened up the floor for questions from audience, a few of which were particularly informative. One question asked if there was a need for a treaty on migration. The panel didn’t think a treaty was necessary especially now since by saying they are still in the process of defining the relationship between climate change, migration, and conflict. Another audience member asked about how the private sector was getting involved in Africa. The panelists responded that the US is currently increasing partnership with the private sector to help these areas. One of the last questions asked how the panelists factored gender into their analysis. The panel explained that women are often most impacted by climate changes because they often can not respond economically and it is harder for them to move since they are often exposed to violence while migrating.

Dr. King concluded the talk by stressing the importance of the 3 Ds of foreign affairs: Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. 

Cody McNamara
Spring Intern
Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

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