Migration across the Bay of Bengal has a long history, but it has recently reemerged in the international spotlight, along with debates about the push and pull factors that have prompted thousands of people to risk their lives at sea rather than remain in Myanmar or Bangladesh. Yet there is one important factor missing from this discussion: climate change.
In the coming decades, migration across the Bay of Bengal is likely to increase as the impacts of climate change become more frequent and severe. Predictions indicate that climate change will dramatically affect countries ringing the Bay, and climate change migration in wider South and Southeast Asia will be extensive. Southeast Asia is home to the highest annual rate of growth in migration globally, and displacement is already being caused by projects justified as climate change mitigation or adaptation strategies.
The persecution and poverty in Bangladesh and Myanmar that is prompting the present population movement needs to be understood and addressed. But forward thinking is also necessary: these two countries will be among the hardest hit by climate change. The impacts of climate change will produce increasing migration as the environment is degraded, extreme weather events intensify, and economic conditions deteriorate.
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This article is part of “Southeast Asia: Refugees in Crisis,” an ongoing series by The Diplomat for summer and fall 2015 featuring exclusive articles from scholars and practitioners tackling Southeast Asia’s ongoing refugee crisis. All articles in the series can be found here.
The mission of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) is to “address the world’s most pressing security concerns”. These days, that means climate security: climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier, and anyone discussing food security, political instability, migration, or competition over resources should be aware of the climate change pressures that are so often at the root of security problems.
The European Green Deal has made the environment and climate change the focus of EU action. Indeed, climate change impacts are already increasing the pressure on states and societies; however, it is not yet clear how the EU can engage on climate security and environmental peacemaking. In this light, and in the run-up to the German EU Council Presidency, adelphi and its partners are organising a roundtable series on “Climate, environment, peace: Priorities for EU external action in the decade ahead”.
In January 2020, the German Federal Foreign Office launched Green Central Asia, a regional initiative on climate and security in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The aim of the initiative is to support a dialogue in the region on climate change and associated risks in order to foster regional integration between the six countries involved.
Climate change will shift key coordinates of foreign policy in the coming years and decades. Even now, climate policy is more than just environment policy; it has long since arrived at the centre of foreign policy. The German Foreign Office recently released a report on climate diplomacy recognizing the biggest challenges to security posed by climate change and highlighting fields of action for strengthening international climate diplomacy.