Cli­mate change refugees need pro­tec­tion, UN told

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IN­CREAS­ING global tem­per­a­tures and land degra­da­tion are forc­ing more peo­ple to mi­grate, cre­at­ing a wave of en­vi­ron­men­tal refugees need­ing pro­tec­tion, says Janos Bog­a­rdi, a pro­fes­sor at the United Na­tions Univer­sity.

On Wed­nes­day he urged the UN to recog­nise that droughts, earth­quakes, hur­ri­canes and other en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors — many of which are wors­en­ing be­cause of cli­mate change — have played a role in the mi­gra­tion of mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide.

Ac­cu­rate, com­pre­hen­sive num­bers on en­vi­ron­men­tal mi­grants are hard to come by, Bog­a­rdi says, since mi­grants of­ten leave home for a variety of rea­sons. Still, the UN refugee agency es­ti­mated in 2002 that there were about 24 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide who had fled floods, famine and other poor en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

A re­port from 2005 by Norman My­ers, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal science at Duke Univer­sity, es­ti­mated that by 2010 about 50 mil­lion peo­ple will have mi­grated for en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons.

The In­dian Ocean tsunami of De­cem­ber 2004 dis­placed more than 2 mil­lion peo­ple, many of whom are still in refugee camps, ac­cord­ing to a 2006 re­port from the UN’s of­fice for tsunami re­cov­ery.

Bog­a­rdi, di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­ment and Hu­man Se­cu­rity based in Bonn, Ger­many, says many in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity are wary of ad­dress­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal mi­gra­tion be­cause they fear the vague term might wa­ter down cur­rent UN pro­tec­tions for refugees. ‘‘ If we over­load the (UN con­ven­tion), we are weak­en­ing one of the strong­est tools for pro­tect­ing refugees.’’

Bog­a­rdi said en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors of­ten lie at the root of more ob­vi­ous causes of mi­gra­tion. Com­pe­ti­tion for scarce re­sources may end in vi­o­lent con­flict, for in­stance. Over­min­ing or ex­ces­sive de­for­esta­tion — driven by tremen­dous need in im­pov­er­ished coun­tries — may re­sult in land degra­da­tion and thus forced mi­gra­tion, he said.

Bog­a­rdi sug­gests that ei­ther the UN should adopt a new con­ven­tion aimed solely at pro­tect­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal mi­grants, or that pro­vi­sions for such mi­grants should be in­cluded in in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal treaties. He pro­poses three broad cat­e­gories to dis­tin­guish among peo­ple who leave their homes: those in­flu­enced only in part by wors­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, those who leave to es­cape the worst ef­fects of a poor en­vi­ron­ment, and those forced to flee dis­as­ter.

Bog­a­rdi says that, like other mi­grants, en­vi­ron­men­tal mi­grants most of­ten flee the de­vel­op­ing world for richer coun­tries. But he adds that no coun­try is ex­empt from the neg­a­tive ef­fects of cli­mate change.

‘‘ Vul­ner­a­bil­ity is with us all,’’ he says, not­ing that more than 75,000 peo­ple are thought to have died from the 2003 heat wave in West­ern Europe. He also points to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, which dev­as­tated the US Gulf Coast in Au­gust 2005, tem­po­rar­ily dis­plac­ing 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple. Es­ti­mates in­di­cate as many as 300,000 of those dis­placed will never re­turn home, he adds.

But de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are the least able to cope with en­vi­ron­men­tal change and should re­ceive the most help. AP

Tsunami: Two mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed, and many still live in camps

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