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At E.U. summit, climate change billed as major security risk

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana warns in a new report that detrimental climatic changes could drive millions of migrants to Europe from developing countries.

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"Migration is the real biggie," says Jeffrey Mazo, an expert on climate and security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "What's causing the migration is food insecurity and water insecurity and general insecurity in developing nations that don't have the infrastructure to cope with climate change impacts."

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For countries like Greece and Spain, which lie on the edges of Europe and are already grappling with major illegal immigration crises, the threat of millions of environmental migrants is a worrying prospect. Already, the Greek government is planning to use development aid to address climate change-related problems in countries that are courses of illegal immigration, in hopes of pre-empting the problem.

Another effort that might help create jobs and stem migration is French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union plan. On Thursday evening, he was scheduled to present the program intended to forge closer ties between Europe and North Africa and Middle Eastern countries. It includes the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area by 2010.

Critics of Mr. Sarkozy's efforts say that since 1995 the EU has given out $30 billion in grants and loans to 10 countries stretching from Morocco to Turkey, but with little result in terms of boosting democracy or ending poverty, reports the Associated Press.

Others argue that European officials are still uncertain of the scale of the potential problems caused by climate change. One often-cited estimate predicts that there will be 200 million climate migrants by 2050. But others put the figure nearer 20 million.

"It's taken people years to accept that climate change is actually true. Now it's a fact of life," says Jemini Pandya, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations organization. "Migration and climate change are two of the more pressing issues of the day. But until recently, there's been virtually no link between the two in terms of study and research."

Indeed, there's increasingly consensus that a crisis is looming, and experts say that a Europe-wide immigration policy – taking into account the issue of environmental migration – will have to be developed. The new EU foreign-policy representative, who will be appointed next year, will have to put climate issues at the top of the agenda.

"It's not just the European Union coming together," says Dr. Mazo. "Climate change is as much an opportunity as it is a threat on the security front, for strengthening all sorts of regional and global institutions."

Linking climate change to security is key to the issue being taken more seriously by Europe's political leaders. Dr. Messner says that until recently, climate change was the domain of environment ministers, who generally had relatively little power. Now, it's the realm of presidents and prime ministers.

"A wider community of the political class is seeing climate change as a serious issue," says Messner, who cites as an example the response of the German foreign minister to a recent report issued by his organization. "The political decisionmakers are now understanding what is going on."