No Climate Refugees?

January 12th, 2012 10:50 am

How shocking it was to hear that spending time on legal issues about climate refugees is not that important… This is what I have heard during one of the workshops during the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights. The assumption is that the global community takes its time to talk about the frameworks while the green house gasses are accumulating and islands located somewhere in the Pacific are more and more endangered. In my view however we desperately need legal frameworks. We are going to face (sooner or better) the situation, in which populations will loose their land forever.

Tuvalu is a small island. Only 10.000 people live there. Their situation is dramatic because of the rising sea levels that are visibly ‘consuming’ the land where they stay and the crop and that nourishes them. It is often represented as a case study for the future legal framework on climate refugees. Right now no country is volunteering to accept the population of Tuvalu and the other island states. What is more, there will be more people migrating based in the delta areas as well as countries located at the sea shores. Those areas have been traditionally highly populated. The decision if the people migrating due to environmental reasons will be called refugees, asylum seekers or just migrants is vital. Are they perhaps victims and humanitarian organizations should take care of them? Answers to those questions will be taken at one of the high-profile intergovernmental meeting.

The task that the civic society has is to advocate for them so they could influence the process of ‘labelling’. Interestingly enough, their voice seems to be lost somewhere in the debate. I agree that the core problem is the reason of the environmental changes that are taking place, however framing it as ‘wealthy countries are polluting, poor are paying the bill, let’s do something with the opulent is a misconception. The developing countries are unfortunately becoming frontrunners in emitting air and water pollution. Without robust knowledge and technology transfer, the mitigation goals will not remain outside our scope. This comes through the adaptation funds that are being often shown as the worst what could have ever happen to Earth. It is truth that buying rights to pollute is not the most descent way of fighting with growing emissions that are disappearing only on paper, but still, it paves the way to a closer cooperation on reaching the aims.

Our group has been very concerned on the ‘traditional’ undocumented migrants, who usually take the decision to leave their homes and move due to the economic situation. The issue of people that move because they have no land to live on remains to be addressed. It may well be that the next couple of decades we will be mostly talking about environmental migrants. I believe that it is crucial to be well-prepared for that discussion.

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