Today is International Migration day, we believe that climate change and migration are directly linked and that it is critical that the climate movement step up for immigrant and refugee communities.
This year we saw a continuation of mass migration from many parts of the world, mostly from developing countries. There was separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border, the clampdown on NGO boats operating in the Mediterranean leading to the deaths of more than 2040 people hoping to cross to Europe, continued brutalisation of people at borders across the globe, the criminalisation of solidarity groups working with migrants and the rise of the right in many countries across the globe. The list should not go on, but it does.
Migration is linked inherently to climate justice. The climate crisis has impacted the global south most harshly, creating a spiral of tensions for the poor communities of developing countries, where people continue to suffer from poverty and malnutrition without effective access to public services. The ability of populations to mitigate and adapt to the negative consequences of climate change are shaped by factors such as income, race, class, gender, capital and political representation. Those with the least ability to adapt tend to be those that live in poverty or in precarious circumstances . On top of that, these communities often receive an unequal share of disaster relief and recovery assistance. Those who suffer the gravest consequences from climate change are those who are least responsible for it.
A World Bank report released in March projects shows that unless urgent action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, up to 143 million “internal migrants” will be forced move within their own countries to escape the gradual effects of climate change by 2050. This will change population scenarios in many countries, especially in Latin America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the report, the highest numbers of migrants are expected to be in sub-Saharan Africa, where people are already living on the edge and would not be able to adapt to further climate-related pressures. In South Asia migration will be driven largely by Bangladesh, where much of the population lives along rivers and coasts already very close to sea level, and India, where is also expected substantial movements away from the coast.
Urgent actions to recognise the seriousness of the issue and address has been on the table since the Cancun climate talks in 2010. Eight years later two sets of interrelated processes have come into play which aim to build global cooperation, common understanding and unity of purpose around migration- and they both acknowledged the role of climate change as a migration driver.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the COP24 guidelines both focus on integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address the displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change. But whilst the two UN processes are very welcome, climate change-induced migration is not something that ‘might’ happen in the future, it is happening now, with devastating consequences.
The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) statistics around displacement make sobering reading, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at present. Conflict, war and persecution remain drivers of migration but in addition climate change and environmental degradation are becoming significant reasons for displacement .
The UNHCR estimates that there is already 21.5 million people globally that have been forcibly displaced by sudden onset of weather-related hazards, such as flooding. There are also many more who have been displaced by slow onset events such as drought, leading to crop failure and forced migration.
The recent news of migrants arriving at the US, Mexican border highlighted how climate change is one of the many factors in driving migration northward. The majority of people at the border came from a narrow triangle of land that is known as the dry corridor that makes up Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador- where there has been a prolonged drought since 2014. This drought has been exacerbated by climate change. Research published in 2015 showed how a 4 year drought in Syria contributed to the Syrian uprising and the resulting mass migration that followed.
Large numbers of people will become and are already being displaced from their homes and land through the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, sea level rise and depletion of drinking waters and other vital resources. Furthermore the unplanned and planned displacement of people as a result of climate change triggers multiple stress factors, including conflict.
There can be no more excuses to not urgently and actively implement pro-migrant policies that support those who are faced with the worst impacts of climate change.
There is still a great lack of cooperation by the developed countries to mitigate the effects of the climate change crisis and to provide assistance to these vulnerable communities. There is an urgent need to develop appropriate strategies to address the causes of climate-displacement, and to take measures for these people’s resettlement and rehabilitation in a dignified way.
Policies must be implemented to provide adequate assistance and protection for people who are displaced internally and across borders. We must prioritise the saving of lives and stop criminalising those who are migrating nor those who support migrants.
Fighting climate change is about much more than emissions and scientific metrics – it’s about fighting for a just and sustainable world that works for all of us. Building higher walls detaining and deporting people only increase the suffering of people displaced by climate impacts. We know that climate migration will be more prominent than ever. And it’s essential that we ensure that we have humane and empowering policies and build global understanding and cooperation.
We know that climate migration will be more prominent than ever. And it’s essential that we ensure that we have humane and empowering policies and build global understanding and cooperation.
350.org stands in solidarity with the #Stanstead15, group of people who stopped a secret charter flight from deporting precarious migrants to destitution, persecution, and death. On Monday 10 December, the Stansted 15 were found guilty of terror-related charges. Amnesty International called the verdict a crushing blow for human rights. People are using this day to raise awareness of the plight of the Stansted 15 in addition to local migrant-rights issues on this international day of action. Find out more here