’s Elizabeth Dickinson recently sat down with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres
for a wide-ranging interview
on the global refugee crisis
. Yet a strong theme emerges across the continents: The complexity of today’s conflicts belies either easy or quick solutions.
In her very last question, Dickinson asks Guterres to name the biggest difference between 2005, when he started as High Commissioner, and 2010, the end of his term. In his final reflection, he speaks directly to the importance of interactions among “mega-trends,”
which are commonly lumped together as “global issues:”
But what we’re witnessing now more and more is a certain number of mega-trends interacting with one another: population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity, climate change, and conflict. More and more people are on the move for reasons that are sometimes difficult to differentiate. If a Somali crosses the Gulf of Aden, is it because of the conflict or because [there are no] jobs? Probably both.
Climate change [also] enhances conflict. If resources become scarce, people tend to fight for them. This is increasing the number of people on the move and the number of people forced to move. They’re not refugees, according to the legal definition, but they represent a major humanitarian and human rights challenge, as well as a major challenge for world politics.
Guterres points out the difficulty in differentiating among the diverse drivers of modern migration. The precise impacts of climate change on migration (and whether those movements will be a force for peace or conflict) are critical yet vexing topics for the emerging climate-security field. Simplifying the complex causal connections into bumper sticker-friendly advocacy messages has led to the unhelpful (and legally inaccurate) use of the term “climate refugees.”
Guterres highlights the complexity of migration rather than ignoring it—a constant temptation when the ultimate goal is implementing coordinated policy responses. Fortunately, such nuanced problem diagnoses of population dynamics are becoming more common.
In his most recent contribution to Foreign Affairs, “The New Population Bomb: Four Megatrends That Will Change the World,” George Mason University’s Jack Goldstone brings a similar understanding to the complex issue of population, identifying four future trends that will have more impact than growth rates alone:
Rather than focusing on the single issue of rapid population growth, Goldstone analyzes regional variations in rate and magnitude, the absorptive capacities of domestic economies, and national immigration policies. By identifying the local impacts of global trends, this rich exploration produces more avenues for concrete action. Goldstone suggests some key steps, including:
Integrated problems demand integrated solutions. I hope that the embrace of complexity demonstrated by Guterres and Goldstone becomes a mega-trend.
- Developed nations should “build effective alliances with the growing powers of the new Second World” (e.g., Brazil, China, Iran, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam) by expanding the G8 and the European Union.
- NATO should expand its membership and activities to include “large and strategic Second and Third World powers.”
- Developed nations should encourage immigration from “young, underemployed, and unstable populations in developing countries.”
By ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko
Photo: Kenyan refugee, courtesy Flickr user Zoriah; UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, courtesy Flickr user Crossroads Foundation Photos; Professor Jack Goldstone, courtesy Dave Hawxhurst