It is argued that an increased likelihood of droughts, floods, famine, disease, loss of habitable land, damage to housing and infrastructure, and other large‐scale natural and humanitarian disasters will place additional stress on communities and governments. If climate projections are accurate, that increased stress could be a “threat multiplier,” leading to “widespread political instability” and “failed states,” while fostering “the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward authoritarianism and radical ideologies.” It is maintained that the logical outcomes of those dire scenarios mean “the U.S. may be drawn more frequently into these situations … to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists” and “the U.S. and Europe may experience mounting pressure to accept large numbers of immigrant and refugee populations.”53
Retired Admiral T. Joseph Lopez gloomily predicts that “climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror.”54 That prediction, of course, assumes business as usual with no efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions, to implement climate adaptation strategies, to develop new technologies, or to achieve improvements in wealth creation and human capital. It also assumes that terrorism thrives in “failed states.” Although that conclusion is true in some cases, a 2008 Congressional Research Service report finds the opposite also holds true: “Terrorists have been known to exploit safe havens in non‐weak as well as weak states. The Political Instability Task Force, a research group commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency, found in a 2003 report that terrorists operate in both ‘caves’ (i.e., failed states, where militant groups can exist with impunity) and ‘condos’ (i.e., states that have the infrastructure to support the international flow of illicit people, funds, and information).”55
Moreover, after the costly enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and its allies will likely resist the temptation to get drawn into peacekeeping and stabilization missions to rescue “failed states.” As former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III attested in 2011: “We cannot be the world’s policeman. We cannot use military force to meet every humanitarian challenge that may arise.”56 Moreover, other foreign policy levers—such as financial aid for transformational development, civilian stabilization, and reconstruction assistance; the fragile states strategy of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and military, police, and counterterrorism assistance57—will typically produce better outcomes than direct military intervention.
There is additional concern about refugees. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2011 there were 15.2 million refugees, 26.4 million internally displaced persons, and 895,000 applications for asylum. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have added to those figures. Sea‐level rise in river deltas has the potential to displace tens of millions of inhabitants and might threaten the very existence of small island states. Maxine Burkett from the East–West Center in Honolulu estimates a total of 200 million to 250 million climate migrants by 2050, although some of those projections are based on “heroic extrapolations.”58 Moreover, Jon Barnett and Michael Webber from the University of Melbourne suggest “that social processes linked to poverty and marginality as well as the treatment of migrants may be more important determinants of the amount and consequences of migration than environmental change.”59
However, if intracountry and intercountry migration accelerates because of climate change, it would most likely happen in a gradual manner and not in any sudden exodus of refugees more commonly associated with war zones. The populations of small island states are by definition small—fewer than 3 million people reside in Pacific Islands, for example. More ethnic Pacific Islanders live abroad than reside in their home countries; therefore, “the greatest concentrations of Pacific Islanders” are “in cities such as Auckland, Sydney, Honolulu, and Los Angeles.”60 If all Pacific Islanders were to become “climate refugees” because of rising sea levels over the next 30 to 50 years, and if they were all to be resettled in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, those countries would need to lift their existing immigration levels by only 5 to 8 percent.61
Migration, whether voluntary or forced, is a perennial feature of life. The International Organization for Migration estimates that the total number of migrants is about 1 billion worldwide today.62 Australia, Canada, and the United States accepted nearly 70 million migrants in the 20th century, and today they welcome nearly 1.5 million new migrants each year.63 Europe accepted 1.7 million migrants in 2011. Immigration to the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co‐operation and Development (OECD) totaled 5.3 million in 2011.64 Although climate change may provide a tipping point for mass migration, it is unlikely to occur. Movement of people across borders happens regularly on a large scale. Assuming Burkett’s upper figure of 250 million climate migrants over the next 40 to 50 years, and further assuming that they were all to be resettled in just the OECD member countries, then 5 million additional migrants per year could be accommodated by Australia, Canada, Europe, the United States, and other OECD member countries by doubling their existing migrant quotas. That might not be politically palatable to some, but it is not an insurmountable problem.
Moreover, issues of food and energy security, as well as mass migration, can be ameliorated by funding climate adaptation measures in the developing world. Adaptation measures to reduce the vulnerability of infrastructure, coastal zones, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and human health to climate‐change hazards would include (a) flood‐control dikes and levees, (b) dams, (c) cyclone shelters, (d) storm‐and‐flood‐resistant housing, (e) improved communications infrastructure, (f) resettlement of populations to lower‐risk zones, and (g) improved health care.
In 2010, the World Bank estimated the cost to the developing world of adapting to a world that is warmer by approximately four degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 at about $75 billion per year.65 That figure represents less than 0.2 percent of world GDP and 55 percent of official development assistance from OECD countries.66 U.S. foreign aid was approximately $30 billion in 2011, or 23 percent of aid provided by OECD member countries. If the 55 percent increase in foreign aid is shared equally by all developed nations, the U.S. foreign aid contribution would need to increase by roughly $16.5 billion per year, and aid from the rest of the developed world would increase by $58.5 billion per year. Increasing foreign aid may be an overly optimistic solution given the “sorry track record” of foreign aid where governance is poor,67 but investing in targeted adaptation measures may have a better chance of success.
Mitigating CO2 emissions and investing in research and development (R&D) of new technologies for emission reduction and carbon sequestration are another option to ameliorate the effects of climate change. One study suggests that a global investment of $18 billion per year in “R&D and mitigation” could halve “business as usual” CO2 emissions by 2100, reducing the impact of climate change by at least 60 percent.68 If that is true and if the burden of that investment were shared by OECD member countries in proportion to their GDP, the U.S. contribution would be around $5 billion per year, equivalent to a tax of only $1 per ton of CO2.69
Modest and sustained investments in R&D, CO2 mitigation, and adaptation will lessen the worst impacts of climate change and would therefore reduce the posited likelihood of regional instability. Under the worst assumption, an increase in foreign aid of $16.5 billion per year (assuming it is used properly) would offset many predicted climate impacts, and thus it would mitigate food and energy insecurities, as well as those associated with increases in refugees.