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Refugee Road: The Growing Climate Refugee Crisis

By Laurentiu Doni

Photo source: Vlad Sokhin

Imagine finding yourself without a home, your family without shelter.

Most of us would have someone to turn to: a relative, a friend, a community shelter. But what if your whole neighborhood had been devastated, or your whole town, perhaps even your whole city? Everyone who could have helped you would have been equally affected by the rising water, the drought, the hurricane. What would you do?

On average, 26 million people per year are forced to flee their homes because of natural calamities. Every second, one person is displaced because of climate change alone. By 2050, both the UN and independent agencies estimate that the number of people displaced every year could rise to 1 billion people.

This issue will not simply disappear.

 

What’s Causing the Crisis?

There’s been a steady increase in the number of climate- and weather-related disasters since the 1970s. Currently, the main causes of displacement are:

  • Storms
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Hurricanes
  • Pollution

And natural disasters are not only not subsiding, they’ll become more frequent and more severe in the future, displacing more people from their homes and tearing apart their social and economic structures.

Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

 

Who’s Affected?

People forced to flee by climate change are variously described as:

climate refugees, environmental refugees, forced environmental migrants, environmentally motivated migrants, climate change refugees, environmentally displaced persons, disaster refugees, the environmental displaced, and environmental migrants

The UN-related International Organization for Migration (IOM) agency formally defines environmental migrants as “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad.”

It’s important to note that the UN explicitly defines climate refugees as:

  • People displaced by extreme environmental calamities as well as those who are fleeing environmentally deteriorating regions;
  • Induced to move within a national border as well as internationally;
  • Displaced for a short or long period of time;
  • Fleeing due to environmental factors by choice or by force.

Crucially, the International Refugee Law does not view environmental migrants as refugees. Thus, they’re not given the protections afforded to political refugees under international law.

Organizations such as the Living Space for Environmental Refugees Foundation are working to increase political exposure of the environmental migration problem. Similarly, the Environmental Justice Foundation is working to give climate refugees a voice by raising awareness of the issue and collaborating with governments and policy makers.

 

What Solutions are Available?

While the problem seems gargantuan, there is still hope if we collectively address the causes of environmental migration. IOM has outlined objectives to mitigate the problem:

  • Prevent the forced migration in the first place–this includes efforts to change policy regarding climate change and increased policy dialogue;
  • Provide assistance and durable solutions to people in affected regions;
  • Facilitate migration–view migration as an adaptation strategy to climate change.

You, too, can help environmental refugees by becoming more informed about the problem, as well as by making certain that your elected representatives are actively engaged in climate change policy and environmental migration policy.

 

 

Posted on 8 February 2018 | 5:00 am