Intelligence Director: Climate Change Could Lead to Larger Refugee Crisis

By Melanie Arter | February 9, 2016 | 11:52am EST
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (AP Photo)

( – Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned Tuesday that the effects of climate change could lead to mass migrations in the years ahead that will strain the western world on a much larger scale than the Syrian refugee crisis, adding that worldwide resources to support a growing population are “somewhat of a finite resource.”

“What we have in the world by way of resource to feed and support the growing population is somewhat of a finite resource,” said Clapper, adding that there’s only so much water, air and land that can be used to grow crops, so climate change will “foment more pressure for migrants” in addition to “instability of governance.”


At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said Tuesday that he was afraid that the Syrian refugee crisis will be a precursor to a larger refugee crisis over the next 10-20 years “based upon predictions of climate change.”

“You touch on this Director Clapper in your report. I’m afraid that the Syrian refugee crisis is a precursor of a larger refugee crisis that we could be facing over the next 10 or 20 years, based upon predictions of climate change,” said King.

“The band of the world that is going to be subject to drought, famine, crop loss, flooding in some areas, incredible heat in the band around north Africa, central Africa, into southeast Asia. We could see mass migrations that could really strain the western countries. Would you concur in that secretary?” King asked.

“Well I think you’re quite right, and I alluded to that at least briefly in my oral statement about the fact that we have some 60 million people around the globe displaced in one way or another, and I think that—” Clapper responded.

“If that increases, it’s going to create—because all those people are going to want to go where things are better, which happens to be the north hemisphere,” King interjected.

“Exactly, and so that’s why that …will place ever greater stresses on the remainder of the countries – whether here in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, wherever – and the effects of climate change, of weather aberrations – however you want to describe them – just exacerbate this,” Clapper said.

“What we have in the world by way of resource to feed and support the growing population is somewhat of a finite resource. There’s only so much water, only so much arable land, and so the conditions that you mention I believe are going to foment more pressure for migrants – that on top of the instability of governance that I spoke briefly in my oral statement as well I think are going to make for a challenging situation in the future,” he added.

In written testimony provided to the committee, Clapper said: “Extreme weather, climate change, environmental degradation, related rising demand for food and water, poor policy responses, and inadequate critical infrastructure will probably exacerbate—and potentially spark—political instability, adverse health conditions, and humanitarian crises in 2016.

“Several of these developments, especially those in the Middle East, suggest that environmental degradation might become a more common source for interstate tensions. We assess that almost all of the 194 countries that adopted the global climate agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015 view it as an ambitious and long-lasting framework,” he wrote in his opening statement.

Clapper cited a UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, which “attributes extreme weather events in the tropics and sub-tropical zones in 2015 to both climate change and an exceptionally strong El Niño that will probably persist through spring 2016.”

“An increase in extreme weather events is likely to occur throughout this period, based on WMO reporting,” he wrote.

“Human activities, such as the generation of greenhouse gas emissions and land use, have contributed to extreme weather events including more frequent and severe tropical cyclones, heavy rainfall, droughts, and heat waves, according to a November 2015 academic report with contributions from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),” Clapper wrote.

“Scientists have more robust evidence to identify the influence of human activity on temperature extremes than on precipitation extremes,” he added.

“The Paris climate change agreement establishes a political expectation for the first time that all countries will address climate change,” Clapper wrote.

“The response to the deal has been largely positive among government officials and nongovernmental groups, probably because the agreement acknowledges the need for universal action to combat climate change along with the development needs of lower income countries,” he added.

Clapper noted that “independent team of climate analysts and the Executive Secretary of the UN climate forum” have concluded that “countries’ existing national plans to address climate change will only limit temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.”

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