The mass migration from Middle Eastern and North African countries in recent years has been a source of serious contention within domestic and international politics. As a result of conflict-ridden countries, government corruption, lack of political freedom, extreme poverty and dwindling employment opportunities, millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in search of a better life. Indeed, these factors have been some of the most important contributors to internal and cross-border migration for many years. More recently, however, migration has been attributed increasingly to climate change and going forward, the prevalence of climate induced migration is predicted to rise.
Considerable research has shown the link between rising global temperatures and more extreme weather patterns, like storms and flooding, that leave many displaced from their homes. In a similar vein, recent evidence suggests that these rising global temperatures are going to result in dangerous levels of crop failure that will ultimately contribute to increased internal and cross-border migration as people search for new employment and greater food availability.
Indeed, there will be significant domestic problems for the tropics countries themselves.
However, it must be recognised by the international community, particularly large greenhouse gas emitters like the US, that the impacts of these crop failures are as a direct result of our carbon footprint and that the impacts will be felt across the globe. Overall, climate induced migration is a substantial issue which requires immediate international policy intervention in order to reduce the severity of crop failure, and therefore to mitigate the social, economic and political consequences of its occurrence.
There is a scientific consensus explaining why the earth’s temperatures continue to rise so rapidly. That consensus is, us. A 2013 study evaluated 10,306 scientists and found that 97% of climate scientists agree on human-caused global warming. This is the same percentage that agree smoking causes cancer. In other words, human caused global warming is accepted with near unanimity. The earth’s temperature is controlled by the levels of carbon dioxide: with more carbon dioxide, we have higher temperatures. Additional Co2 that is not absorbed by plants or the ocean, is stored in the atmosphere and increases the overall temperature of the earth. The processes of combustion and photosynthesis are what determine carbon dioxide levels on earth. Photosynthesis is the main process by which carbon dioxide is extracted from our atmosphere.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide and water and chemically convert this into sugar, therefore reducing the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere. Conversely, combustion is a chemical process that produces heat and results in the release of Co2, often in the form of burning fossil fuels. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have combusted fossil fuels at an incredibly high rate, therefore increasing Co2 levels and the Earth’s temperature. Additionally, we have removed organisms vital for maintaining healthy carbon dioxide levels through deforestation. More specifically, deforestation around the equator where the green, photosynthetic life is most abundant, and where photosynthesis is most plentiful. As previously mentioned, carbon dioxide levels determine the earth’s temperature.
Clearly, reduced photosynthesis and increased combustion can only serve to increase Co2 levels. At 350ppm, this carbon cycle is maintained and the earth’s temperature remains constant. In 2013, 400 ppm were recorded for the first time in the past 2 million years. Overall, the combination of humans’ increased carbon emissions, as well as the removal of vital organisms for photosynthesis prevents the regulation of the Earth’s temperature which will continue to rise without major changes to human behaviour. Environmentally, the rising global temperatures have devastating implications on many domains of life on earth. These range from rising ocean temperatures to ecosystem biodiversity to extreme weather patterns. However, one factor that is fundamental to sustaining human life is our ability to grow crops. Crops all have minimum, maximum, and optimal growing or reproductive temperatures.
For example, corn has an optimal temperature of between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius for 100 to 130 days in order to achieve its yielding potential. With rising global temperatures, many crops will no longer grow in their current areas and therefore production must be shifted away from the equator, towards cooler climates. Indeed, moving crops north and away from the equator will provide more optimal growing temperatures to increase the likelihood of large yields. Therefore, throughout this century, some crop growing will shift towards America and Europe in order for crops to find optimal growing temperatures. Not all agriculture will be able to move, and so many farmers in the tropics are likely to face crop failures due to global warming. These crop failures will have significant impacts on the social and economic condition of the warming tropical countries. Inevitably, reduced crop productivity is going to have the most devastating impacts on the poorest in society. Firstly, it is the small-scale farmers in the poorest regions of the tropics that will be most adversely affected by the movement of crops. They are vulnerable to this consequence of climate change primarily because of their location in the tropics, meaning their yields are likely to lessen and crop growing is likely to move away from their homes.
And secondly, because of their socioeconomic condition they have reduced abilities to adjust to new forms of farming or employment.9 This will only serve to further the disparity between rich and poor in these regionsand increase the likelihood of these people migrating across the border in search of employment opportunities and improved quality of life. This movement can be predicted as this pattern has been repeated consistently throughout history. For example, a study found that the higher above the 20C optimal growing conditions in agricultural regions, there were more people that migrated out of the country.10 In other words, as global temperatures rise those responsible for food production in tropical countries will likely migrate, meaning lessened agricultural labour, product and export for the country, and an increased prospect of food scarcity.
Less availability will likely lead to a rise in food prices, leaving the poorest in society in a desperate situation and encouraging further migration. Therefore, this shifting of crop production north and the associated migration could lead to a devastating cycle of loss of labour, food scarcity, higher food prices and migration out of these tropical countries. Of course, these consequences seem to be largely domestic. Although the reasons for these crop failures are fundamentally caused by developed countries greenhouse gas emissions, it does appear less developed, tropical countries are hardest hit. The consequences of the crop failures due to rising global temperatures that seem to hit smaller, agriculture-based countries may partially explain why the leading developed countries, particularly the US, seem unconcerned with rising global emissions that are likely going to perpetrate the current problems. America’s lack of concern for controlling the Earth’s temperature is evident as Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017, which “for the first time brought all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change.”
Additionally, Sheila Olmstead, an advisor to Obama, said Trump is looking for a full “180” on Obama era environmental protection policy. This anti-green policy may be a result of some studies suggesting the impacts human emissions are not significant. Indeed, there is some evidence that human-caused global warming has been exaggerated. However, the evidence attributing global warming to human caused greenhouse gas emissions is much more considerable and more widely accepted than that evidence refuting it. In a different light, it may be that the consequences of crop failure due to global warming appear to be far-removed from many well-developed countries and therefore they have no interest in changing policy. Whilst there are significant internal consequences for the tropical countries, Western countries carbon footprints could have significant impacts on international social and political stability and this should provide motive for changes in policy.International communities should be aware of the recent evidence suggesting significant influx of migrants as a result of global warming-caused crop failures.
Crop failure as a result of global warming will have local, national and international implications. With major policy change from the international community, the significant impacts of our carbon emissions on crop growing, and therefore migration, could be much less severe. As previously mentioned, this shift in where crop growing is optimal will undoubtedly have impacts on cross-border migration. A study found that countries with temperatures that average around 20C, the optimal temperature for growing many crops, show a higher number of asylum applications than areas with temperatures much below or above this optimal temperature.10 Furthermore, the data showed that the higher above 20C in agriculture regions, the more people left the country and migrated elsewhere. In a similar vein, when colder countries temperatures rose to nearer the optimal crop growing temperature, the number of people leaving the country actually fell.10 Following this trend, as the globe warms, and Europe and America consistently maintain the optimal growing temperatures, the number of migrants entering these countries will consequently rise.
The predicted warming of 2.6C to 4.8C could see 660,000 more people seeking asylum annually in Europe by 2100.15 Clearly, there is a strong connection between rising global temperatures and increased migration, that is closely associated with crop growing temperatures. Therefore, continued high carbon emissions will directly impact Europe and America. The consequences of this climate-induced migration will have international political reverberations. A University of Otago researcher has shown that the effect of climate change is a more important driver in increasing migration than income or political freedoms.16 This highlights the extent to which climate induced-migration is becoming a very relevant reality. In recent years, American politics has shifted significantly right, particularly with environment and immigration policy, and there has been a surge in right-wing political victories in Europe. Fortress Europe, the hypothetical barrier shaped by anti-immigration sentiment in European countries, is becoming an ever-larger hurdle that migrants must over-come in their search for safety. The effect of Fortress Europe is not only sentimental, it is also political.
The anti-migration mentality is upheld in international politics and this has resulted in almost complete failure to pass any sensible migration policy to ease not only the suffering of refugees, but also the economic and social pressures on European host countries. The Leave vote in the UK EU Referendum, for which one of the main reasons was a demand for stricter anti-immigration laws, highlights the political nature of this crisis. The surge in right-wing support in Europe demonstrates the already high tensions in relation to the current levels of migration. Additionally, President Trump was elected, at least partially, on his promises of significantly tighter immigration laws. In reality, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unrestrained, then the levels of migration, as a result of crop failures and other consequences of climate change, are predicted to rise considerably. Schlenker, author of the study Asylum Applications Respond to Temperature Fluctuations, said countries are “already conflicted about how many refugees to admit. Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked.”
These words highlight how rising migration as a result of climate change could adversely impact tropical countries, and could further complicate political tensions among other countries. Therefore, it is in international political interest, in line with current anti-immigration sentiment, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce the likelihood of crop failures, and therefore increased migration. The current predictions are extremely worrying for international stability, however, with significant change in behaviour, there is the possibility to reduce the severity of the consequences considerably. Indeed, the potential increased migration can create internal and cross-border tensions, as seen with the Syrian Civil War.18 However, we do have the opportunity to prevent the exacerbation of current tensions. If we act now, and implement new policy and much greener behaviour, then the number of climate-induced migrants could be reduced by up to 80%. This is evidenced in the report, Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration.19
Therefore, if international policy is changed now and the global community commits to considerably greener behaviour, then climate migration will be less of a severe reality, and tropical countries will be more likely to maintain an agricultural presence, and social and economic stability. Overall, whilst some politicians assume the crop failures as a result of global warming only introduce domestic problems for these countries in the tropics, in reality, it stretches far beyond this. These crop failures could impact the entire globe as there is a clear link between global warming temperatures, crop failures, and migration towards Europe and America for optimal crop temperatures. Indeed, migration and immigration can bring great things to a country, such as multi-culturalism and diversified expertise. However, the current international political climate highlights a demand for tighter borders and less movement of people. The recent migration crisis has created intense political complications. The current nature of our emissions will only serve to exacerbate these tensions. Therefore, the anti-migration sentiment that has pervaded Europe should now serve as encouragement for developed countries to reduce their carbon footprint in order to control migration levels. If there is universal commitment to reduced emissions, we can significantly reduce the devastating impacts of these global warming-caused crop failures, and we can create a much more stable climate: both environmentally and politically.