The climate crisis and migration are two of the most critical – and controversial – issues of our time. They are also inevitably linked, and if we want to tackle both, we need to do more than just mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
We have to put people at the center of our strategies and ensure that their human rights are protected as the world changes around them.
The International Migration Review Forum (IMF), which is taking place from May 17 this year at the United Nations headquarters in New York, is an important opportunity to convey this message. Activists should use it to promote a strong and positive narrative on global migration and to convince delegates that a joint agenda is needed to address the climate crisis.
Climate change, driver of migration
The Global Compact on Migration (GMP), the subject of the IMF, was signed in 2018. Only four years later, climate experts, including those from the UN, announced the acceleration of global warming beyond previous predictions. Advocates urge countries to act boldly to mitigate the effects and to adapt strategically where losses are no longer permanent.
Workers, women and the most affected populations must occupy a central place in the deliberations, both in the climate field and in the migration field
Climate change is a threat multiplier. It aggravates existing inequalities, such as economic differences between countries, and inequalities between populations due to race, gender, class, etc. It also reaches into every corner of modern life, making it useless to tackle it through the usual thematic silos.
Migrating as the Earth warms
On the contrary, in the run-up to the IMF, concern has grown that the GMP’s commendable commitments to address the headwinds of migration and to ensure ‘safe’, regular and orderly migration is being watered down and even contested. . The concealment of commitments and progress is particularly worrying given the consequences we are already seeing on a daily basis around the world.
Consider the recent stories shared during a virtual event on women, migration and climate.
Thousands of women in charge of packing bananas on plantations in Honduras lost their jobs after the recent hurricanes. These storms have become larger and more frequent with climate change. As unions fought to restore their jobs, women waited months for production to resume without income or social support.
Persistent droughts, erratic rainfall, higher and more extreme temperatures, and floods are affecting the entire Central American region, including its ‘drought corridor.’ Local agricultural production has drastically decreased, leading to population displacement and emigration. This is demonstrated by the usual ‘caravans’ of migrants seeking a safe journey to new destinations.
Most climate-related displacement will continue to be internal within countries; however, the pressure to cross borders is always present, especially when countries fail to provide support to displaced populations. In some cases, such as in the Pacific region, relocation is becoming unavoidable.
Although the region only contributes 0.03% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is experiencing more extreme weather, rising seas, increased sea and land salinization, loss of land and fishing etc
Increasingly, the climate displaced is part of what is known as “mixed migration flows”: people moving across international borders, with or without migration documents, such as asylum seekers, migrant workers and refugees. The categories of people on the move are becoming more blurred and, as a consequence, almost all migrants face additional challenges at borders and in their new countries.
How does climate change affect refugees?
In 2020, UNHCR deployed teams to assist with relief efforts in Central America and southern Mexico, where an estimated three million people were affected by Hurricane Eta, one of the worst weather-related disasters in the region. in the last two decades.
When Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March 2019, UNHCR relocated refugee families to safer shelters, providing them with tents, plastic sheeting, sanitation equipment and clean water. Similarly, UNHCR has been helping Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh mitigate the effects of monsoon storms, floods and landslides.
People already displaced for reasons other than disaster-related hazards, including refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons, often reside in climate change ‘hotspots’ where they may be exposed to secondary displacement and reduced chances of being able to return home.
This is the case in the Sahel region, which is facing one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in the world. In this region, intense and largely indiscriminate violence perpetrated by armed actors has forced nearly 3 million people to flee both within countries and across borders. This growing humanitarian and protection emergency is exacerbating pre-existing challenges facing the region, including climate change and environmental degradation.
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