In the next 30 years, according to the UN International Organization for migration, we can expect up to 1.5 billion environmental migrants, raising the question of how our world can change to accommodate a population that will move north to already challenged cities. Top priorities such as food security, clean energy, and adaptation to climate change, call on us to reimagine life on Planet Earth, expected to be home to upwards of 10 billion by 2060.
In the Guardian’s “The Long Read” The century of climate migration: why we need to plan for the great upheaval, reporter Gaia Vince makes the case that migration must not be the problem — it must be the solution.
“Climate change is in most cases survivable; it is our border policies that will kill people,” Vince writes. “Human movement on a scale never before seen will dominate this century. It could be a catastrophe or, managed well, it could be our salvation.”
An estimated 50 million climate-displaced people “already outnumber those fleeing political persecution,” she writes. The UN Human Rights Commission in a 2020 internationally nonbinding ruling stated that nations cannot send climate refugees home.
The coming migration will involve the world’s poorest fleeing deadly heatwaves and failed crops. It will also include the educated, the middle class, people who can no longer live where they planned because it’s impossible to get a mortgage or property insurance; because employment has moved elsewhere. The climate crisis has already uprooted millions in the US – in 2018, 1.2 million were displaced by extreme conditions, fire, storms and flooding; by 2020, the annual toll had risen to 1.7 million people. The US now averages a $1bn disaster every 18 days.
Key points in the Vince article:
- We need a new mechanism to manage global labour mobility far more effectively and efficiently – it is our biggest economic resource, after all.
- Nations need to move on from the idea of controlling to managing migration. At the very least, we need new mechanisms for lawful economic labour migration and mobility, and far better protection for those fleeing danger
- The planetary scale crisis demands a global climate migration pact, but in the meantime, regional free movement agreements – of the kind EU member states enjoy – would help
- Nations have an obligation to offer asylum to refugees, but under the legal definition of the refugee, written in the 1951 Refugee Convention, this does not include those who have to leave their home because of climate crisis
- We must be alert to “climate nationalists” who want to reinforce the unequal allocation of our planet’s safer lands.
Over at The Hill, Carl Bon Tempo and Hashia Diner note We handled climate migration nearly 200 years ago, we can handle it again. The article evaluates how the influx of hundreds of thousands of Irish in 1845 resulted in a boom for the economy on the east coast of the US and shaped the cultural fabric of the nation.
“Just as those 19th-century refugees from environmental disaster contributed mightily to our nation, so too will these current and future ones,” they write. “Nations do have a responsibility to regulate the entry of newcomers, but optimism should guide policy.”
Vince writes: “We are witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record, and it will only increase. In 2020, refugees around the world exceeded 100 million, tripling since 2010, and half were children. This means one in every 78 people on earth has been forced to flee.”