Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

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

Impediments to equitable food access and security in Asia are the result of productivity problems, inefficient markets, restrictive trade structures, and supply and distribution problems. These have led to the production-poverty paradox afflicting the continent, which is simultaneously the largest producer of rice in the world and home to the largest number of people suffering from hunger. Poor infrastructure and declining investments prevent productivity and efficiency enhancing technologies from being successfully or sufficiently incorporated into developing Asia's agricultural sectors. The expected economic and climate shocks to its system also imply that Asia will soon be forced to increase production with reduced resources, yet its resilience is both untested and uncertain.

International commitments to enhancing human capacity and financing research and development of appropriate technologies will go a long way towards food security efforts. Creativity and persistence in interpreting and presenting the challenges are also needed to secure substantial increases in international funding for agriculture. While there are common characteristics to the problems facing the region, there can be no single solution that is applicable to every country. Action plans must be implemented at the national level to benefit households and to move international cooperation forward. Investments in human capital, capacity building, and public-private partnerships in the agricultural sector are also necessary to overcome limitations in government resources and leadership. 

The challenges to water security, similarly, go beyond resource shortages and flooding issues induced by rising global temperatures. The parallel crisis in water management and governance, if not addressed, will accelerate the depletion of already scarce resources and undermine the water accessibility of vulnerable communities. Traditional national security and development concerns could be exacerbated by competition for resources - particularly in the context of rivers that transcend national boundaries and other shared resources - to culminate in water disputes and conflicts of an unprecedented nature.

While all countries are committed to increasing water efficiency, there are variances in the policies of different countries, which could prove increasingly critical given anticipated water stresses and the presence of seasonal and chronic shortages. To date, the status of the water crisis in Asia has not been assessed or addressed in a regional framework. In the absence of such integrated dialogue, it will be difficult for nations to move on to the urgent next step of committing to and investing in collaborative and innovative changes in management, socioeconomic structures, and lifestyles. A multi-stakeholder approach will be critical to balancing the needs and rights of multiple segments of society, as well as the rights of different states in one country. 

In general, the development of international mechanisms and structures has failed to keep pace with the transnational effects of human responses to climate change. This inadequacy is particularly evident in migratory flows of people who are driven to move for increasingly complex and intertwined societal and climate induced reasons. Current structures also lack the capacity to address the pursuit of unsustainable national economic development models that have spillover effects on people and resources across national borders. Migration is driven by different insecurities, and having an accurate sense of the big picture would require migration studies from different disciplines to be integrated. There is currently a lack of data collection and of integrated studies and analysis. National policy makers should begin engaging in scenario planning for the impact of domestic migration and of rising sea levels, as this is the only way to provide enough lead time for adequate responses to be designed. Governments must recognize the need for and commit to capacity building of global and national governance structures through shared information, resource pooling, increased networking, and people oriented agendas. 

The common bottom line in dealing with the different implications of climate change is the security of people. While it was acknowledged that the ongoing transition to a "new" or "post-American" world order sends mixed signals about the paramountcy of human security on the global agenda, delegates agreed that countries must still persevere with securing the basics of establishing accountability at multiple levels for human actions. A rightsbased approach and an emphasis on good governance is key to consolidating and enhancing the long term adaptive capacities of societies. For these reasons, climate change adaptation strategies should be mainstreamed and integrated with development strategies, with the overarching aim of inclusive growth. Climate change, instead of being conceived solely as a threat, should also be seen as an opportunity to rethink development. Countries are urged to commit to anticipating, understanding, and acknowledging the complex consequences of problems that international cooperation is meant to address. Pioneering collaborative initiatives have the capacity to set the Asia-Pacific community on its way towards the outcomes envisioned by a transformative scenario.