The recent images from Europe and the Middle East of people fleeing war and persecution has shocked the world in both horror and tragedy. What role does climate change play in the displacement of people? This December, countries from around the world will meet in Paris for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. The conference will aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, which is necessary to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change. Here are 3 reasons why the migrant crisis should be at the top the agenda during the Paris negotiations.
Reason 1: Climate change accelerates the displacement of people globally.
Last year, environmental disasters displaced 22 million people from their homes. Since 2008 the numbers of those displaced as a result of climate change related disasters averages 26.4 million people per year. That’s about 1 person per second.
Reason 2: Syrian Refugees
The wave of uprisings known as the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011 resulted from the accumulation of many complex factors, not least people fighting for their basic freedoms. But, climate change also fanned the flames of social unrest.
The depth of despair in the current Syrian war and refugee crisis has been compounded by drought, which first hit Syrian farmers and livestock in 2007. According to a 2011 United Nations’ report, 75% of the country’s farmers suffered ‘total crop failure.’ More than a year after the drought ended, the livestock population remained 50% below pre-drought levels. Successive crop failures have forced a million people to leave rural areas for cities which had already received and hosted some 2 million Iraqi refugees.
If current rates of global greenhouse gas emissions continue, yields of rain-fed crops in Syria may decline between 29% and 57% before the year 2050.
When you combine this level of crop failure with painful austerity measures – neoliberal economic policies which have profited the wealthy and squeezed ordinary citizens – rife human rights abuses and geo-strategic game playing between powerful countries such as Russia and the US, and mainly for access to carbon-emitting natural resources throughout the Middle East, what you have is a recipe for long-standing conflict, which is likely to force people to flee their homes to find safety, often at great risk and peril to their own lives and their loved ones.
Reason 3: It was removed from the agenda!
Many States thought that that migrant crisis was an important discussion point for the upcoming Paris climate conference, but it was removed from the final agenda.
Those living on the periphery of world development, such as small island states and Bangladeshi and Syrian farmers, are among the first to be experiencing the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts have forced whole populations into conflict and emigration. Those who have and will suffer the most acutely are also those who are least responsible for the crisis to date. Even though previous international agreements have required states to limit carbon emissions, they have increased – with the US being among the top culprits.
Many of the most vulnerable states wanted to talk about how the international community would coordinate humanitarian responses of emergency relief, replacement and compensation for those displaced by climate change. However in the process of hammering out a draft agreement, these important points were removed. Wealthier countries – who are also the most high polluting countries – likely wanted to remove any discussion points which might oblige them to clean up their historic and continuing mess by contributing financially or providing refuge to those displaced as a result of climate change.
Even though the paragraph was removed it is possible a state can reintroduce it during the negotiations in Paris. And it is also possible that it can be reintroduced at a later stage. However, it’s up to all of us to join the growing chorus of those concerned about the migrant crisis, to push it onto the agenda, for Paris and beyond.