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A more holistic approach to human displacement

Now that the dust has settled on the climate negotiations in Paris, it is time for a small recap. COP 21 has brought progressive objectives on which the international community can work on for the future. Most ambitious goal is the tougher target of a 1.5-degree temperature rise instead of the 2.0-degree temperature rise initially aimed for. As Dr Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics said: “It is a victory for the most vulnerable countries, the small islands, the least developed countries and all those with the most to lose, who came to Paris and said they didn’t want sympathy, they wanted action.” The nearly 200 countries present at COP21 got their act together and the conference can be considered a great success.

Unfortunately one aspect has been left out. Human displacement caused by climate change has not been mentioned in the debate during COP21. As mentioned in previous posts, as sea levels will rise, the way we use land will change and this will have serious consequences for migration.

The issue of migration is a hot topic now and it will continue to come back over and over again in the future. Currently the international community is trying to find an answer to the streams of Syrian refugees. The current refugee crisis has divided Europe and the European Union has no unified response as how to deal with the crisis, leaving (too) much to individual Member States. When it comes to human displacement, there is a lesson that can be learnt: problems are always connected.

As Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford explains, “In countries with strong governance such as the US, a natural disaster is unlikely to require people to cross borders. It is in countries with weaker governance and limited coping capacity that cross-border movements may take place.” He then explains that this was the case with people leaving Haiti for the Dominican Republic following the earthquake in 2010 and from Somalia to Kenya as a result of famine and drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011. Changes in climate are imminent. Tackling climate change in relation to migration means investing in the creation of countries with strong governance. Basically coming back to the core of international development, using the Sustainable Development Goals as guideline for this.

Displacement as a result of climate change falls, unlike the Syrian refugees, not under a category covered by an international refugee treaty and is therefore no reason for nations to grant asylum. This was already explained by the case of Ioane Teitiota, who has recently been deported from New Zealand. Additionally what is a result of climate change? Natural disasters can just be ‘an act of God’ and do not necessarily have to relate to changes in the climate, some would argue. In my opinion, currently climate change proves to be a difficult umbrella to capture all the causes of human displacement and therefore a more holistic approach should be pursued. Betts says the following about this “(…) human displacement should be an integral and on-going part of the agenda. Responses to the needs of millions of vulnerable people should not depend not upon box-ticking” and I could not agree more.

 

 

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Rene Perey

Rene Perey