Climate change can split cross-border ties


As it advances, the borderless issue of climate change can dismantle supranational ties as countries withdraw into nationalism. Though, in the wake of the COP21 agreement, it seems like finally actions are being taken to curb climate change unilaterally. But looking at the other side of the medal, there is a surge in nationalism throughout the world, which comes with strong calls for closing borders.

This week a new study, published in Science on Thursday, revealed compelling evidence that humanity’s impact on the earth’s atmosphere and natural life has moved the world into a new geological epoch.

This news proves the relevance of the climate deal at last year’s COP21 summit in Paris, where almost 200 countries agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Not only is this deal vital to the worlds outlook for the century, it is also an impressive diplomatic achievement. Attributed to French and American leadership, the Paris Pact required countries to look past their borders and act upon the realization that climate change affects their national security.

Zooming in on the west, we can see how this vast global pact conflicts with the surge of nationalism. Nationalism has been on the rise globally, as Howard Fineman pointed out in a Huffington Post article in June last year. He writes “it turns out that globalization hasn’t doused, let alone put out, the embers of nationalism. It has inflamed them.”

He points at China, Russia, France’s Marine le Pen, Greece and Germany. He points at the -then current- Scottish referendum in the UK. There are more examples that he leaves out. “Global and regional frameworks -from the EU to the UN- are under assault amid a renewed obsession with national identity.”

Zooming in on Europe, we see that the European Union is under attack from Eurosceptics in just about every member-state. The Schengen Area, almost an institute, is being questioned during the current migrant crises. Borders are closing one after another, most recently between Sweden and Denmark and most poignantly by means of a fence in Hungary, last year.

Financial Times’ editor Gideon Rachman called it a “strange revival” of nationalism in global politics in an opinion piece last year. He suggests it is incongruent with the high expectations of globalization from the 1990’s on: “In a borderless world of bits and bytes the traditional concerns of nations – territory, identity and sovereignty – looked as anachronistic as swords and shields.”

This is demonstrated by the rise of new international treaties in the last twenty years, which increasingly covered areas that previously were regulated only by national authorities. These particularly affect legal area’s like trade and competition law, human rights and environmental law.

Environmental law is inherently cross-border and climate change accordingly asks of nations that they work together to limit it’s effects.

Particularly in the European Union, member-states shifted significant and vital parts of their constitutional competences to the EU. It is not possible for member-states to regain competence in these areas without leaving the Union.

This has its effects on the member states. The incremental loss of control over national law is a common source of frustration for eurosceptic parties throughout Europe, such as the Freedom Party in the Netherlands. In December last year, the party-leader Geert Wilders promised that when becoming prime minister he will “take back Dutch sovereignty.”

It has Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker worried. During the presentation of this half-year’s new Dutch Union-presidency in Amsterdam, he lamented the re-introduction of borders controls throughout Europe: “We have to save Schengen and bring Schengen back to where it belongs,” he told reporters. “We cannot go on with this process where day after day another member state is reintroducing border controls.”

The rise of European nationalists, with their eurosceptic desire to shed the competence of EU law in their countries, is already having its effects on cross-border cooperation. Beata Thor writes about the new border controls between Sweden and Denmark on Euroscope. The border controls already have detrimental effects on the economic cooperation that was set-up for direct economic results.

So, in this atmosphere of louder and louder calls for cutting intergovernmental ties, the Paris Pact is an impressive achievement. And it is also necessary: climate change is increasingly being linked to growing levels of conflict, terrorism and soaring numbers of refugees.

Already in 2009 did the International Organization for Migration point out that the number of storms, droughts and floods have increased threefold over the last 30 years. And the United Nations estimates that over the next 35 years, climate change could create anywhere between 200 million and 1 billion climate refugees.

Writer and filmmaker Thomas Friedman pointed out the link between the Syrian civil war with the worst drought in Syria’s modern history coupled with a corrupt regime amid hot geopolitical tensions. “Without water, revolution,” he writes. The rest is history. Read about the Syrian civil war and it’s disconcerting effects here (link).

With the rise of Syrian fighters in the troops of Daesh (ISIL, Islamic State) there is a direct link with terrorism. But it remains a difficult logical leap to connect that with climate change, though the U.S. Department of Defense declared climate change a national threat in the 2014 version of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)

“The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world,” the report states.

Climate change is seen as a root cause for terrorism, as it calls the effects of climate change ‘threat multipliers.’ “These will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”

Despite the currently most powerful nation in the world calling climate change a national security threat, European nationalists remain dismissive of climate change, or the need for cross-border solutions.

Front National (FN) Member of European Parliament Mireille d’Omano called the international climate talks of 2014 a “communist project,” in British newspaper The Guardian. She said: “We don’t want a global agreement or global rule for the environment.” Huffington Post blogger Jens Martin Skibsted wrote that he once saw former FN-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen “cut a water melon in two to demonstrate that the green environmentalists were in fact hidden red communists.”

Several other European far-right parties have equally dismissive stances on climate change. They are mainly concerned with xenophobia toward immigrants. This is why it is strange that they take a stance against global warming, of which the effects are predicted to cause a soaring refugee situation.

In March last year, an exercise was carried out in Delhi by the UK’s foreign office and the strategic think tank CNA, in which 24 experts participated in a simulation of a world under duress of climate change effects. Participants included renowned scientists, security experts, diplomats, and retired military personnel from Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States

The participants took on the roles of major world powers – the US, China, Russia, the EU, India and the Middle East. Each of them made strategical decisions, underpinned by geopolitical motives.

These were written up in a report by CNA in December last year. Analysts of the simulation showed that it is very likely that “climate change may trigger increased nationalism and policies of internalization in developed countries.” It says that in a heated world, “large-scale, climate-induced migration and displacement may impact a country’s international policies, economic situation, and defining cultural attributes.”

In december last year, Bangladeshi participant, the retired major general ANM Muniruzzaman told climate-related news website Climate Home that “as climate scenarios became more and more difficult and complex, I would have expected people to be reaching out and being more inclusive.” The opposite happened: “the countries’ reactions were just the opposite: They became more inward-looking and insular.”

With climate change already happening, we can see a rise in nationalism. Despite climate change being a security threat for every nation, there is a growing call for national sovereignty, as nations have shifted their competence toward supranational organizations. If the simulation is accurate, the disconcerting effect of climate change may that nations turn more inwardly and scurry back into nationalism. This will effectively disband the hard-fought cross-border ties that international treaties have established between nations that were once at war, but that now need to fear the transcendent effects of climate change.

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Joachim Jansen is a freelance journalist focusing on European affairs, ranging from international banking to relations with the Middle-East. To connect or follow: @joachimbjansen -

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