Climate justice means supporting refugees

November 19, 2015
Kiribati is predicted to be one of the first causalities of global warming.

Kiribati, a nation made up of 33 islands in the South Pacific, is predicted to be one of the first countries to vanish beneath the sea before the end of the century. The government has already bought 2400 hectares of land in Fiji in case they need to more the entire population.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 10,000 people, is not expected to last long above water. The people of the Carteret Islands are resettling on Bougainville Island as their islands are not expected to last the year and the Maldives, with a population of 350,000, is considered the South-East nation most vulnerable to inundation due to climate change.

Rapid onset climate change events such as typhoons and hurricanes, such as Typhoon Haiyan that forced 1 million people to flee their homes in the Philippines in 2013, are intensifying.

There is no certainty about where these climate refugees will be able to resettle when their island homes are submerged. The Australian government has repeatedly refused requests to relocate people from uninhabitable Pacific Island nations to Australia.

At the same time, the government is continuing to support destructive mining projects across the region that are contributing to climate change and destroying people's homes in the short term. The hollowed out shell that is now Nauru is a perfect example of a destructive mining project in the area. It now hosts one of Australia's detention centres.

Internally displaced people

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, between 2008 and 2013, almost 28 million people were displaced by environmental disasters every year. About three times as many were forced to leave their homes due to conflict.

Entire villages were wiped out in the Indus Delta in Pakistan due to floods, sea level rises and cyclones, forcing people to relocate, often to places where they struggle to make a living.

In Bangladesh by 2050, 30–50 million people who live in coastal communities are expected to become climate refugees. They are likely to be forced to move to urban centers such as Dhaka, where people are often forced to work for just $2 a day. Currently resource scarcity is rife and at least 40% of the population live in slums.

Bangladesh, like many other countries in the region, does not have the resources to resettle millions of displaced people and cope with natural disasters caused by climate change.

Kivalina, an island off Alaska that the Inupiat people have lived on for hundreds of years, is expected to submerge within the next decade. But the US government has not given them any resources to relocate.

Seasonal migration patterns of African farmers, fishers and herds-people, have existed for centuries. Today those patterns are being replaced as people increasingly move into urban areas.

Climate change leads to conflict

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, climate change will lead to an increase in armed conflicts over scarce food and fresh water.

Syria is an example where climate change has been a major contributing factor to internal conflict and a refugee crisis. Drought attributed to climate change affected more than 60% of Syria in 2006–2011. The drought meant that more than 75% of farmers — or 1.5 million people — suffered total crop failure and were forced to leave their farms and move to the city.

This has led to massive unemployment which, coupled with a shortage of fresh water and food, played a part in the initial 2011 uprisings against the government.

According to a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation, the Syrian refugee crisis is only a taste of what is to come. It is expected that by 2050 up to 150 million people will be forced to move countries because of climate change.

Anti-refugee moves

The response by European and other governments is to step up nationalistic anti-refugee rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the US is strengthening its border with Mexico and India is building “fortress India”, a massive wall along the Assam-Bangladesh border that will stretch for almost 3500 kilometres.

The few people who do reach Europe are being met with a fortress mentality. Hungry is building a 170-kilometre fence along its southern border to keep refugees out.

Refugees coming to Australia are being met with increasingly harsher forms of offshore detention and turn-back policies.

Currently the United Nations' Refugee Convention does not apply to climate refugees. Developed countries, including Australia, have resisted such a section being included.

Nations causing the most climate change and doing the least to mitigate it are shutting their gates on the countries and peoples being most affected by it.

An alternative

But an alternative is possible. In Bolivia during the People's Climate Conference in Cochomabma in April 2010, which was attended by people from 142 countries, climate refugees were part of the agenda. Solutions were put forward, including calling for rich countries to support poor countries in mitigating and coping with climate change via technology transfers, financial assistance and accepting climate refugees.

The climate justice movement first took up the issue of climate refugees in 2009, when 2000 activists participated in a “no borders” protest outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. recently released a statement in the lead-up to the Paris climate summit calling for climate activists to take up the refugee campaign. The statement argued that climate change and the refugee crisis are interlinked.

Climate change is fundamentally a capitalist problem. Rich countries and corporations have been colonising, and environmentally vandalising poorer countries in the pursuit of profits, leaving them vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The rich countries have a responsibility to help resettle people displaced by climate change. In essence this should be part of paying an “ecological debt” to the third world countries they have pillaged.

To achieve climate justice for the millions who will be affected by climate change, complete system change is needed. Capitalism, even “green market capitalism”, cannot solve this crisis — it is only capable of further expounding the problem due to the inherent drive for profits.

It is critical that we transition to an ecosocialist system, where production is geared to meet human needs not profits; where people have democratic control over their lives; and where the sustainability and survival of this planet is the crucial task.

Dealing with climate change and the refugee crisis requires an internationalist approach, where borders are opened for people fleeing the effects of climate change. Rich countries have a responsibility to help poorer countries and those countries that will be most affected by climate change. Together, another world is possible, and necessary for our collective survival.

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