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The Williamsburg Conference 2010

The Security Implications of Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: Food Security, Water Security and Migration

Participants at the 2010 Williamsburg Conference learn about rice planting.

Participants at the 2010 Williamsburg Conference learn about rice planting.

The Security Implications of Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: Food Security, Water Security and Migration

From May 20-23, 2010, the Williamsburg Conference returned to the Philippines for the 3rd time in its thirty-eight year history.  Asia Society, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), brought together 37 distinguished Asian and American leaders from 16 countries and economies to Los Banos, Laguna, The Philippines.

This year's conference explored the Asia-Pacific regional security implications of climate change, with a particular emphasis on how the looming potential food and water shortages and the specter of climate change-induced migration will stress existing national and international governance structures and what can be done now and in the future to best address these challenges.

Key Participants included:

Sumitaka Fujita, Senior Corporate Advisor, ITOCHU Corporation; Cameron R. Hume, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, U.S. Embassy in Jakarta; Sidney H. Myer, Chairman, Asia Society AustralAsia Centre; CEO, Yulgilbar Group of Companies; Ong Keng Yong, Director, Institute of Policy Studies, national University of Singapore;Joel S. Rudinas, Undersecretary for Operations, Department of Agriculture; Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank; Shen Dingli, Executive Dean, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University; U Aung Khin Soe, Ambassador to the Philippines, Embassy if Myanmar in Manila; Xuan Vo-Tong, President, An Giang University;

Executive Summary:
In addressing the security implications of climate change in the Asia-Pacific, the broader and more fundamental question that emerges is how to deal with the human actions, institutions, and systems that have created and perpetuated thethreats to food, water, and human security confronting the world today. Climate change, in such a context, is more accurately interpreted as a multiplier or catalyst of these wide scale threats and challenges. From May 20-23, the 38th Williamsburg Conference convened at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna,the Philippines. Thirty-eight distinguished Asian and American leaders and authoritative subject experts representing 16 countries and economies came together to understand the convergences of the crises and to propose concrete next steps that could be taken at the individual, national, and international levels to start moving the world towards a preferred future scenario in the next 20 years.

Two extreme but plausible scenarios could materialize in the future - the Protectionist scenario or the Transformative Scenario. The Protectionist Scenario is an antagonistic one that sees countries prioritizing sovereign over collective interests, thereby preventing the international networking and collaboration necessary for addressing the transnational triggers and effects of climate change. The capacity for proactive policy making is undermined, with countries reacting belatedly and disjointedly to rapidly changing circumstances and developments. The Transformative Scenario sees nations sharing and acting upon a vision of effective global leadership, governance, and responsibility. Partnership and collaboration minimizes tension between local interests and global concerns, and the world sets itself on a path of sustainable growth and development.

Where the Asia-Pacific region stands today is somewhere in between the protectionist and transformative scenarios, with no guarantees as to its ultimate inclination. On the one hand, climate change induced challenges that individual countries perceive themselves to be facing could well set the stage for international conflicts over resources. On the other hand, the recognition that sustainable solutions depend on international collaboration and mutual consideration could also lead countries to forge common ground and act in tandem with each others' interests. 

As home to some of the largest and most densely populated countries in the world, which are also set to be most at risk to the hazardous impacts of climate change, the Asia-Pacific region is both the epicenter of global challenges in food, water, and human security, and a key actor in addressing these challenges.