The world that we live in boasts technological advances and unprecedented progress. But every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. Most progress has been made at the cost of future generations, as most of the environmental implications of industrialization are treated largely as an afterthought. Pollution from factories and the increase in carbon emissions are some of the biggest causes of climate change. Climate change has been shown to cause the extreme weather patterns we observe now. A new report on the state of the Global Climate in 2018 stated that record greenhouse gas concentrations are raising global temperatures to extreme levels. Sea levels are rising and threatening to sink low-lying Pacific Islands, droughts in central Africa are becoming more severe in duration and intensity, and some of the strongest storms that we have seen in decades are wreaking destruction one after the other — the most recent being Cyclone Idai, which resulted in devastating floods and tragic loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. No part of the world is exempt from these calamities — humanitarian crises are breaking out around the globe as millions are displaced from their homes.
Climate change drives internal and external migration. It is predicted to transform 200 million people into “climate migrants” by 2050 as people escape crop failure, water scarcity, and sea-level rise. Kiribati, an island republic in the Central Pacific, is one of the countries predicted to be submerged in just three decades; it is already experiencing flooding every day. The question is, where should the people who are displaced in such situations go?
Moving to places that are safer and better equipped for disasters would be the most logical answer. But politics and national borders will not let it happen easily. Legally, there had been no such thing as “climate refugees” until recently, although millions of people move inside and across borders every year because of climate disasters. Near the end of 2018, country leaders formally adopted the UN Global Compact for Migration at a meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco. It is the first major migration policy that addresses climate change as a driver of migration. However, it is a non-binding agreement that several countries — some of which are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions — have already dropped out of. Even in the countries that adopted it, governments are facing major discontent from their citizens as populist parties argue that it threatens national security and sovereignty.
This knee-jerk reaction to the idea of migration stems from the rising anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across the world. Migration is an increasingly divisive issue in the US and in most of Europe, as the continued flow of migrants sparks fears among citizens that refugees would steal their jobs, rob their homes, and commit acts of violence and terrorism in their country. Populist parties have played on these fears and have championed “patriotic” policies that make immigration harder for refugees. Populist policies and climate change denial should have no place in global policy discourses. In a lot of industrialized countries, climate change is still seen as an exclusively environmental problem, if seen at all. However, this line of thinking is just going to cause us to be caught off guard once the impacts of climate change and the rush of refugees further accelerate. Countries should invest in measures to halt climate change and to humanely deal with the impacts that it has on human lives.
The world’s least developed and poorest nations are at most risk; according to the Global Humanitarian Forum, they have experienced 99% of the deaths from weather-related disasters despite accounting for just one percent of global carbon emissions. Aside from cutting back on carbon emissions before we reach the point of no return, we all have a responsibility to assist refugees when we have the capacity to. The further complication and denial to accommodate refugees who have had their homes and livelihood destroyed is a violation of their basic human rights. They deserve to have access to the resources that other countries have. Environmental catastrophes have no respect for national borders, and nor should we.