Climate change and the refugee crisis may be linked

Inge van der Knaap
Inge van der Knaap is currently studying for her Bachelor in Economics. Next to her study she writes for Off the Charts and she is mainly interested in sustainable development, social impact, poverty and inequality, but also in issues concerning the field of health economics.

It is a topic barely discussed during campaigns and debates for the Dutch elections: climate change. And more precisely, how to limit global warming and its consequences. A topic that was hotly debated, however, was the refugee crisis. In this article, I will discuss why climate change and the refugee crisis may be linked and urge for a greener society.

The Paris agreement officially entered into force on 4th November 2016 and has currently been ratified by 141 countries according to the UNFCCC. In this agreement nations commit themselves to keeping the global temperature rise to at most 2ºC(but preferably only at 1.5ºC), increase the ability to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and to develop a sustainable decrease in greenhouse emissions.
Obviously, tackling an issue this vague and complex is hard because of incentives to free ride and can be seen as a form of the prisoners’ dilemma. Social welfare would be optimized if all countries were to work together and reduce their emissions. Yet for every single country it is optimal to defect from this cooperation and to pollute. This may explain why it is so difficult for countries to commit to reducing greenhouse emissions.

Let’s make this a little more specific and look at how the Netherlands is dealing with the issue. An argument one often hears is that if we (the Dutch) invest in energy transition for example by closing the coal plants, somewhere else a more polluting coal plant will open. Some may also be afraid of other countries free riding by remaining big polluters whilst we invest in costly green energy methods. If we look at the numbers, we see that the Netherlands is actually not performing that well at all. Examining the share of green energy relative to the total energy use, only 5.5 percent of energy comes from renewable sources. Of all European countries, the Dutch are the third worst country from this point of view. It gets even worse if we compare the share of renewable energy used now, to the goal we committed to achieve in 2020 in the “EU guideline for Renewable Energy”. In this list, we are the second worst performing European country. The Dutch are clearly underperforming in comparison to other countries, making us the actual free riders of Europe.

Now let’s turn to the other issue to be discussed. One of the topics that was actually hotly debated during debates and campaigns for Dutch elections is the refugee crisis. An increasing number of people, mainly from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, are on the move, often fleeing wars in their home country. European nations are generally divided on issues such as how many (if any) refugees to take in and how to help them integrate. Of course, these issues deserve attention and should be addressed well. However, it is important to also look at the root causes of the refugee crisis and if possible, try to solve them.

A hotly debated topic amongst academics is whether there is evidence for a direct causal relationship between climate change and the occurrence of war. A recent study found that the level of ethnical fractionalization plays a role in conflict incidence and research has also shown that economic welfare is the single factor most consistently associated with conflict incidence. Area’s that are most fractionalized, such as in Africa and Central Asia, are also expected to be the areas to see a substantial rise in extreme event hazards, according to climate models. Climate change may thus be a catalyst in war occurrence by creating impoverishment and insecurity, which is often exploited by warlords to attract people for their wars, ultimately leading to people affected to seek refuge.

In the current formation of a new government, the leading right party is in discussion with progressive and green parties. These parties did discuss measures to reduce climate change in their election programs. This hopefully results in an agreement to move towards a greener society, meet the Paris Agreement and curtail climate change and its consequences.  It is important to note, however, that reducing climate change is not the single solution to the refugee crisis, but it may well be one of the factors of influence.



“Does climate change cause conflict?” Mark Notaras, United Nations University

Does Climate Change Cause Conflict?

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