Human security, climate change, and migration: a European perspective

Nuno Severiano Teixeira, Joana Castro Pereira, and Susana Ferreira

As the process of globalization deepens, security challenges intensify, calling into question the state’s capacity to address them on its own. Events related to climate change and large-scale migration stand among the overwhelming challenges that our societies face today. While shifts in the international arena, in this era of mounting turmoil and convulsion, endanger the core values supporting global governance, the growing interconnectedness and complex nature of these security threats need to be addressed through a collaborative and multilateral approach. This is very clear in the case of the European Union (EU), whose member states have struggled to find a common voice to address shared challenges, such as climate change or migration.

In its latest global risks report, the World Economic Forum (WEF 2020) listed extreme weather, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, and human-made environmental disasters as the top five global risks likely to loom largest within the next decade. Of these, it identifies climate action failure, biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, and water crises as among the top five in terms of impact. We are experiencing a planetary emergency that threatens the future of life on Earth and requires unprecedented global coordination. Despite both growing public awareness of the ecological crisis that the planet is facing and ever more urgent calls for climate action across the globe, particularly among the youth, and the trajectory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and policies since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, coupled with the recent increase of conflict in the international system, make the prospects of an ambitious global response very' dim for the foreseeable future. As major emitters such as the US, Brazil, and Australia display skepticism regarding the anthropogenic character of climate change and hostility towards international action aimed at mitigating the problem, attention turns to the European Union as the most environmentally committed actor and in its capacity to keep the momentum of the Paris Agreement alive (Evans & Gabbatiss 2019).

Climate change and migration have become intimately related in the last decades, and new (albeit controversial) concepts such as “environmental migration” and “environmental refugees”1 have emerged. Despite the difficulties in ascertaining the impact of environmental factors on people’s decision to relocate (Martin 2010: 397), one thing is certain: Climate change will exacerbate the existing migratory pressure, especially in some specific regions, requiring global efforts to meet these challenges.

While the phenomenon of international migration remains an exception, representing just 3.5% of the world population, its scale has increased. Already there are an estimated 272 million migrants worldwide, surpassing the UN’s own projections for 2050 (IOM 2019). However, major migration and displacement events have taken place in recent years, whether motivated by violent conflicts or by severe political, economic, and social instability, and triggering several humanitarian crises, most notably from Syria and Yemen in the Middle East to Venezuela in South America.

These unprecedented migratory dynamics have turned the Mediterranean Sea into the world’s deadliest migration corridor. As the migratory pressure in this region intensified in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the EU has found itself at odds with its common migration and asylum policies.

Relying on theoretical reflections about the concepts of security and human security, both of which highlight the human side of today’s risks, this chapter provides an overview of the climate change and migration crises in Europe. We will present, assess, and compare the EU’s responses to both. To what degree is the EU able to address these issues at a multilateral level? And are the Union’s climate and migration policies consistent with the demands of human security?

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