Climate Change Refugees: the victims of global warming
Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Communities around the world are at risk of losing their homes due to the effects of climate change, causing a new wave of refugees seeking a new place to call home. Millie explores this new, growing problem.
The state and health of our planet determines physical and human events much more than one might first observe. Climate change, a destructive and primary adverse consequence of the declining health of this earth, is having a detrimental impact on our vital resources. We rely on safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter, and clean air to survive. Imagine that one day you lose access to one of these necessities and have no choice but to flee your life, home, or even country.
Global warming has exacerbated the changes to our natural world and has caused a long list of environmental concerns. There is often little consideration, however, for those who suffer first-hand the destructive impact of increasing temperatures or rising sea levels. It is estimated millions of people have been displaced because of this and a new subset of migrants has emerged in the last two decades – climate change refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, climate change refugees are defined as “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change”, and the new concept does not entirely exist in international refugee law. Yet, a study in 2017 estimated that there were more internally displaced people due to climate-related disasters than conflict. There are hundreds of examples of refugees seeking asylum as a direct result of climate change that vary between each region and community.
The country that has experienced some of the highest average temperature increases in the world is Mongolia. A report confirmed that Mongolia is warming at a rate three times faster than anywhere else on the globe. Due to their nomadic culture, many Mongolians are wholly dependent on their land and livestock. The increasingly hot and dry summers, however, contribute to the death of thousands of livestock. The reoccurring financial loss and the lack of economic support has caused a mass migration of herders moving to the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. The overpopulated and polluted city offers little opportunities for farmers who suffer poverty and lack access to public services.
Whilst high temperatures and drought are the results of the climate crisis in Mongolia, other parts of the world are struggling with flooding, hurricanes, and destructive tropical weather. In January 2022, the island of Madagascar was hit by Storm Ana, followed by Storm Batsirai only two weeks later. The twin storms destroyed homes, took lives, and caused water levels in rivers to rise dramatically. Resources are already outstretched and the Red Cross estimates that 150,000 will be displaced. Weather-related disasters in Madagascar have increased in intensity and frequency and exacerbate the long droughts that impact the south of the country.
However, there may be hope for greater legal representations for climate change refugees. In January of last year, a landmark case ruled by the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) determined that governments must recognize climate change as a legitimate reason to seek asylum. Ioane Teitiota struggled to access drinking water in his home country of Kiribati (an island nation in the Pacific) due to the climate crisis. He migrated to New Zealand but was denied refugee status in 2010; he therefore took his case to the HRC to challenge his deportation. Teitiota’s legal success suggests greater protection of the rights of island nations, but the case is also a worrying insight into the future of low-lying islands that are in danger of increasing sea levels.
In conclusion, the gradual climate changes we are experiencing are intricately linked to economics and politics. Global powers and multi-million companies have a responsibility to minimise their contribution to global warming which has a disastrous impact on the poorest areas in the world. The climate refugee crisis is therefore by no means merely an environmental issue - it more than ever concerns the protection of human rights, today, and for future generations.