An unfortunate side-effect of discussing climate change as a security threat is the propensity of some in civil society to use what is a serious and nuanced debate as a springboard for advancing reactionary, rather than preventive, agendas.
A recent chapter from a report on climate change and adaptation, commissioned by the Israel Climate Change Knowledge Center, recommended building a fence around the entire country (including a “sea fence” in the Mediterranean and the Red seas) to keep so-called “climate refugees” out. On the border of India and Bangladesh, the Indian government has used the “climate refugees” threat as one of many justifications for building a 2,100 mile-long high tech fence along its long border with Bangladesh.
While the use of the climate argument to support such policies is not currently the norm across the globe, it is worth responding to sooner rather than later.
First, these solutions do not have a great track record. If you look at a list of the nations that have erected so-called “separation barriers” at their borders to keep migrants and refugees out, you will find few cases where this has led to significant increases in security, stability or prosperity.
Second, these policies are costly, and temporary “band-aid” solutions which do not address the root causes of why people move. More robust solutions to climate change impacts on migration will need to focus on how climate change exacerbates the perennial social, economic and environmental drivers of migration (see a recent report by the Brookings Institution, which highlights some more durable solutions).
Third, these “quick fixes” can harm the very nations that are trying to protect themselves. For example, trans-boundary water sharing, and important trade networks, might be inhibited by such extreme measures.
Indeed, climate change and much of today’s economic activity do not respect hard political boundaries. In this context, solutions need to be cooperative rather than combative. For countries like India and Israel, assisting neighboring states in climate-proofing their infrastructures, economies, and natural resources, will go much further towards ensuring stability and security than building miles and miles of fences. And as a fortunate side-effect, it may also help to enhance good will, lessen regional tensions, and strengthen the very nations that feel threatened.