Climate change mass migration threat
WHEN international leaders met in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka last month for discussions about a new global migration policy, they glossed over what experts say will soon become a massive driver of migration: climate change.
“The international system is in a state of denial,” said ANM Muniruzzaman, who heads the Bangladesh Institute for Peace and Security Studies.
The Dhaka talks came less than two months after UN nation states committed to developing a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration within two years.
Climate change figured only as a sub-theme during one roundtable at the conference, which Muniruzzaman said was typical of similar events.
“If we want an orderly management of the coming crisis, we need to sit down now – we should have sat down yesterday – to talk about how the management will take place.”
Groups like the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration, are well aware of the risks and say they are working to bring climate change to the forefront of policy discussions.
During the discussions in Dhaka, Michele Cavinato, head of UNHCR’s Asylum and Migration Unit, called climate change “the defining challenge of our times”.
It’s difficult to say exactly how many people around the world will be forced to move as the effects of climate change grow starker in the coming decades.
But mass displacement is already happening as climate change contributes to natural disasters, such as desertification, droughts, floods, and powerful storms.
About 203 million people around the world were displaced by natural disasters between 2008 and 2015 and the risk has doubled since the 1970s, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement.
How many people will be displaced by climate change depends to a great degree on what countries do now to mitigate the future effects.
Desertification is already consuming fertile land in Africa, causing people to leave their homes to find work elsewhere, including Europe.
Some countries are predicted to disappear entirely into rising seas.
The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati has a strategy that would ideally allow its 100 000 citizens to “migrate with dignity”.
However, South Asia, with its large population and vulnerability to various climate change effects, is particularly at risk, according to a new report by the International Organization for Migration. Of the 203 million people internally displaced between 2008 and 2015 by natural disasters, 36 percent were in South Asia.
The report notes that the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation has recognised climate change as a threat and made policies intended to mitigate the effects. However, “migration concerns are only scantily mentioned”.
That’s a pattern worldwide, said Muniruzzaman, who underlined that last month’s Global Forum on Migration and Development did not include a session which was dedicated to climate change.
Unless the focus shifts, he warned, the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be unable to address mass displacement due to climate change – and the threat could reach far further than many expect.
For example, he said, climate change migrants with few options for employment could swell the ranks of criminal and militant groups, while the disappearance of island nations could spark armed conflict on the high seas, as countries rush to claim newly vacant maritime territory.
“It will not be just a humanitarian problem,” said Muniruzzaman.
“It will be an international security problem.” – IRIN