Cli­mate change mass mi­gra­tion threat

African Independent - - NEWS -

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

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