Climate refugees: Is the world ready for millions of new migrants displaced by hurricanes, fires, floods and droughts?
Hurricanes, fires, floods and other natural disasters are part of the effects of climate change. Climate change displaces people and creates migrants, i.e. climate refugees. In 2017, this was well seen on the example of the United States. The fires that struck southern California in December forced thousands of residents to leave their homes to save a living head. More people escaped the hurricanes that destroyed Texas and Florida in 2017, blocking roads to fill hotels.
A glimpse at the Internet showed a radar picture just where people could see how frantically they left Florida and raised a provocative question: What if the neighboring states were independent and refused to give shelter to migrants? The outcome will not be good at all, i.e. there could have been a major humanitarian catastrophe.
Experts estimate that by the middle of the 21st century climate change is likely to range between 150 and 300 million people. If the listed millions are one country, it will be the fourth largest in the world after China, India and the United States.
Despite the significant climate change that no one can seriously ignore now, even the global community of nation states are not ready for a new kind of “climate migrants”. Taking into account ongoing research on the effects of global warming in developing countries, the conclusion is that many things need to be done at the national, regional and global levels in order to adequately address climate refugees.
Climate migrations are already happening all the time. Every year desertification in Mexican drylands has forced 700,000 Mexicans to move. The cyclones transported thousands of people from the island of Tuvalu to the South Pacific Ocean and from Porto Rico in the Caribbean.
Meteorological experts agree that the prolonged drought accelerated and expanded the Syrian Civil War and led to more refugees. For example, a study found that one million Syrians had already been displaced from their homes before the first bullet fired. The extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was the worst in the last 900 years in that area. This led farmers to lose their livestock and animal needs and directly affected the outbreak of the worst war since 1945.
A research study published by Science magazine in December 2017 showed that time shocks drive people to seek asylum in the European Union. The study found that in a 15-year period, asylum applications are rising along with higher temperatures in the countries where asylum seekers come. Between 2000 and 2014, weather problems in 103 countries around the world directly affect migration to Europe.
According to the United Nations, in the period from 2008 to 2015, an average of 26.4 million people are displaced each year due to climate accidents or bad weather. Scientists who deal with the phenomenon of climate change believe that, unfortunately, these trends will continue and will become even worse. By increasing the temperature for one degree, the amount of moisture in the air increases by 7%, which encourages the growth of fierce storms. The sea level may increase by about 90 cm by 2100, by immersing the coastal areas and inhabited islands. The Pacific Islands are particularly vulnerable as well as 400 cities along the coast around the planet Earth, such as Amsterdam, Hamburg, Lisbon and Mumbai. Increased and higher temperatures can make parts of Western Asia impossible for human life.
The same day when Hurricane Irma crashed Florida in September, heavy rains across the globe sank one third of Bangladesh and the eastern parts of India, killing thousands. Cyclone Winston in 2016 displaced 55,000 people in Fiji, due to which the island country lost one fifth of GDP.
Climate change will affect almost all the inhabitants of the planet at some level, but the poor in developing countries will suffer the worst. Extreme weather events and tropical diseases cause the greatest damage to these regions. Hungry people who have only the most basic means hardly enough to live and inadequate housing conditions are a particularly vulnerable group and are very likely to become climate refugees. According to the Center for Internal Residual Monitoring, natural disasters in 2016 displaced 24 million people across borders of their countries. The problem is that refugees leave deserted villages and move to already populated cities or go to places with higher altitudes.
Today, the international community still does not universally recognize the existence of climate refugees or migrants, and even less agrees on how to define them. In accordance with international law on refugees, climate migrants are not legally considered as refugees. Accordingly, they have no protection whatsoever for refugees. Refugees are defined as persons fleeing from war or being persecuted. People who leave their homes because of climate change or those leaving their homes because their climate change makes life difficult, are not considered refugees. There are no global agreements to help millions of people who move each year due to natural disasters.
The rights of refugees and the legal obligations of countries to defend them are primarily defined in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, extended in 1967. These laws have been adopted long before it becomes clear that climate change will become the main driving force behind migrants and a refugee crisis. The convention defines a fugitive as someone who “is unable or unwilling to return to his country because of a founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, belonging to a particular social group or political opinion.” More than 65 million people from their homes are currently displaced, of whom almost 25 million are asylum seekers and have refugee status. But, of course, climate refugees are not considered here.
National governments and organizations such as the United Nations should consider amending the international law in order to ensure the legal status of environmental refugees and to establish mechanisms and rights for their protection. Reforms can be embodied in the concept of “climate justice”, ie the idea that climate change is an ethical and social problem. Finally, wealthy countries like the United States and China have the greatest contribution to the emergence of climate change, while poor countries such as Fiji, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone are most affected by them. That’s why some observers rightly argue and argue that countries that have contributed to climate change need to receive the most climate refugees.
An alternative solution for the world’s largest polluters is to create a fund that will pay for the protection of refugees and all those people temporarily or permanently displaced due to climate change. Interestingly, the Climate Change Treaty in Paris does not mention climate refugees since 2015, but there are several consultations and initiatives from different organizations and governments. They include efforts to create an institution for coordination of deployed climate refugees and a UN special rapporteur on human rights and climate change. Obviously, it will be difficult to define a precisely climate refugee / migrant. This will be one of the biggest challenges for future policies.
History has shown that countries receiving climate refugees behaved differently when they were hit by refugee waves. Some countries welcomed them cordially, while others placed them in detention centers and did not provide support. Some countries act selectively and choose whom they accept, foster young and productive children, do not want to receive infants and elderly people. Global political guidelines, if they exist, should prevent confusion and provide a basis for minimum standards.
It will take many years to reach agreement on the attitude of climate refugees. The G20’s major powers, such as the United States, Russia, China, India, Brazil and Australia, should begin with mid-term solutions. The United States could offer its refugees – a protected status. Governments and non-governmental organizations should work to alleviate the suffering and problems of poor refugees and help them with natural disasters. Many countries that are not signatories to the Refugee Convention are as soon as possible to do so as the countries of South Asia and the Middle East, which have proven to be extremely vulnerable to climate change. Because refugees from these countries will be displaced in neighboring countries, it will be crucial to establish a refugee policy at the level of those regions. One of the solutions will be a separate category of visas for people displaced by climate change. Many countries have already provided humanitarian visas after terrible natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. This was done by the United States after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, but the Trump administration last November stopped the so-called. “refugee status” for refugees from Haiti.
The extent of the challenges posed by climate change and the subsequent refugees are something that has not yet been faced by humanity. One developed, but also undeveloped world could be hit by millions of refugees from developing countries, which could lead to real-life humanitarian disasters. In Germany, more than a million refugees arrived chaotic in 2015 and this has gone through many problems, and the climate can make dozens and even hundreds of millions look for a better and safer world.