TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) – Worsening climate largely due to the burning of coal and gas is eradicating millions of people, with fires sweeping California cities, rising seas overtaking island nations and the drought that has exacerbated conflicts in various parts of the world.
Each year, natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people to leave their homes around the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And scientists predict that migration will increase as the planet gets warmer. According to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published this year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is likely that in the next 30 years 143 million people will be uprooted by rising seas, drought, scorching temperatures and other climate disasters.
However, the world has yet to officially recognize climate migrants or find formalized ways to assess their needs and help them. Here’s a look at today’s climate migration.
WHO ARE THE CLIMATE MIGRANTS?
Most climate migrants move within the borders of their homelands, usually from rural areas to cities after losing their home or livelihood due to drought, rising sea or another meteorological calamity. As cities are also facing their own climate-related problems, including rising temperatures and water shortages, people are increasingly being forced to flee international borders to seek refuge.
However, climate migrants are not granted refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which provides legal protection only to people fleeing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group.
DEFINE CLIMATE MIGRATION
Identifying climate migrants is not easy, especially in regions full of poverty, violence and conflict.
While worsening weather conditions are exacerbating poverty, crime and political instability and fueling tensions about dwindling resources from Africa to Latin America, climate change is often overlooked as a contributing factor to people’s flight from their lands of origin. According to UNHCR, 90% of the refugees under his mandate come from countries “at the forefront of the climate emergency”.
In El Salvador, for example, dozens of people leave villages every year due to crop failures due to drought or floods and end up in cities where they become victims of gang violence and eventually flee their countries because of those. attacks.
“It is difficult to say that anyone is just moving because of climate change. Are all those who leave Honduras after a hurricane climate migrants? “Elizabeth Ferris, research professor at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, wrote in an email to the Associated Press.” are there non-climate related environmental risks – people fleeing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis – should they be treated differently from those displaced by weather phenomena? “
Despite the challenges, it is imperative that governments identify climate displaced people, Ferris added.
“The whole question of definition is not a trivial question: how can you develop a policy for people if you are not clear to whom it applies?” she wrote.
Although no nation offers asylum to climate migrants, UNHCR published legal guidance in October 2020 that opens the door to offering protection to people displaced by the effects of global warming. He said climate change should be considered in certain scenarios when it intersects with violence, although he stopped short of redefining the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The commission acknowledged that temporary protection may be insufficient if a country is unable to remedy the situation from natural disasters, such as rising seas, suggesting that some climate displaced people may be eligible for resettlement if their place of origin is considered uninhabitable.
A growing number of countries are laying the foundations to become a safe haven for climate migrants. In May, Argentina created a special humanitarian visa for people from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean displaced by natural disasters to keep them for three years.
Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden ordered his National Security Advisor to conduct a months-long study that included examining “options for the protection and resettlement of people displaced directly or indirectly by the change. climatic “. A task force has been set up, but the administration has not yet adopted this program.
Lower Bangladesh, extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, was among the first to try to adapt to the new reality of migration. Efforts are underway to identify climate-resilient cities where people displaced by rising sea levels, river erosion, cyclonic storms and saline water intrusion can relocate to work and in return help economically their new positions.
TRANSFORMING THE DEBATE ON MIGRATION
Political debates on migration have long centered on blocking borders. Climate change is changing it.
With hundreds of millions of people expected to be uprooted by natural disasters, there is a growing discussion on how to manage migration flows rather than stop them, as for many people migration will become a survival tool, according to supporters.
“One problem is the total lack of understanding of how the climate is forcing people to move,” said Amali Tower, founder and executive director of Climate Refugees, an advocacy group focused on raising awareness of people displaced by climate change. . it is still this idea in the North of the world (industrialized nations) that people come here because they escape poverty and seek a better life, the American dream. In Europe, it’s the same turn of the same story. But nobody wants to leave theirs. We must address climate displacement as a human security issue and not a border security issue. “
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