Climate apartheid: Profiteering from border walls

November 16, 2021
By the middle of the century, it is estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide may be displaced as a result of climate change.

The Climate Wall, a report recently published by the Transnational Institute, reveals that the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases spend an average of 2.3 times as much on arming their borders as on climate finance.

Some spend 15 times as much. They aim to keep migrants out, rather than addressing the causes of climate displacement.

Climate change is already threatening island and coastal communities and devastating food security and access to fresh water. Long-term drought and changes in weather patterns are causing hunger and destroying farming land.

By the middle of the century, it is estimated that as many as 200 million people worldwide may be displaced as a result of climate change.

The Climate Wall begins with Byron’s story of displacement in the wake of Hurricane Eta, which devastated parts of Guatemala in November last year: “The floodwaters had still not receded in the Guatemalan town of Campur in the wake of Hurricane Eta when Byron headed north to the United States.

“When the flooding finally receded in January 2021, it revealed the extent of the devastation: homes, livelihoods, and crops had been destroyed. Byron was among the 600 families who lost everything.

“Byron, however, didn’t wait for the floodwaters to recede. He made a decision to leave instantaneously. Along with a number of the 339,000 Guatemalans displaced due to natural catastrophes in 2020, Byron would face the walls, armed agents, and surveillance systems deployed by the US, which would start 258km away at the heavily enforced border with Mexico.”

As the report points out, the world’s wealthiest countries have chosen to approach global climate action by militarising their borders.

“This is a global trend, but seven countries in particular — responsible for 48% of the world’s historic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — collectively spent at least twice as much on border and immigration enforcement (more than $33.1 billion) as on climate finance ($14.4 billion) between 2013 and 2018.”

These countries are the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, Canada, France and Australia.

The bricks that are used to build this “Climate Wall”, according to the report, come from “a failure to provide the promised climate finance that could help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; and a militarised response to migration that expands border and surveillance infrastructure”.

“This provides booming profits for a border security industry but untold suffering for refugees and migrants who make increasingly dangerous — and frequently deadly — journeys to seek safety in a climate-changed world.”

The report found that climate change is more and more a factor behind displacement and migration. It also found that, while the majority of displaced people remain in their own country, the number of people crossing international borders is likely to rise as climate-change impacts entire regions and ecosystems. As well, it confirmed that climate-induced migration takes place disproportionately in low-income countries, already vulnerable due to systemic injustices.

According to the report, Australia spent 13 times more on militarising its borders than on providing climate finance ($2.7 billion compared with $200 million) between 2013‒18.

Canada spent 15 times more ($1.5 billion compared with around $100 million); the US almost 11 times more ($19.6 billion compared with $1.8 billion); and Britain nearly twice as much ($2.7 billion compared with $1.4 billion).

The report also found that countries with the lowest historic GHG emissions are the hardest hit by displacement: “Somalia, for example, is responsible for 0.00027% of total emissions since 1850 but had more than one million people (6% of the population) displaced by a climate-related disaster in 2020.”

Climate change and the militarisation of borders is also generating mega profits for the border security industry, according to the report.

“A 2019 forecast by predicted that the Global Homeland Security and Public Safety Market would grow from $431 billion in 2018 to $606 billion in 2024, and a 5.8% annual growth rate. According to the report, one factor driving this is the growth of ‘climate warming-related natural disasters’.

“Top border contractors boast of the potential to increase their revenue from climate change. Raytheon says ‘demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change’. Cobham, a British company that markets surveillance systems and is one of the main contractors for Australia’s border security, says that ‘changes to countries [sic] resources and habitability could increase the need for border surveillance due to population migration’.”

As the report sets out, the border security industry also provides security to the oil industry — one of main contributors to the climate crisis, creating a “nexus of power, wealth and collusion between fossil fuel firms and the border security industry”.

“Exxon Mobil, for example, contracted L3Harris (one of the top 14 US border contractors) to provide ‘maritime domain awareness’ of its drilling in the Niger delta in Nigeria, a region which has suffered tremendous population displacement due to environmental contamination.

“BP has contracted with Palantir, a company that controversially provides surveillance software to agencies like the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to develop a ‘repository of all operated wells historical and real time drilling data’.

“Border contractor G4S has a relatively long history of protecting oil pipelines, including the Dakota Access pipeline in the US.”

The report concludes by saying that governments have a choice to invest in supporting a transition to clean energy in the poorest countries, alongside making deep emission cuts in their own nations, in order to “give the world a chance” to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C.

However, as the recent COP26 meeting shows, the governments of the advanced capitalist countries of the Global North will have to be forced from below to make the “choices” needed to secure a safe climate future for all.

For climate activists, this invaluable resource makes the links between displacement, climate change and the profits-first agenda of the border protection industry. More importantly, it confirms why we need to fight for climate justice and an ecosocialist alternative that puts protection of human life and repair of the climate at its centre.

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