Climate migrants need legal rights

Over the past year, we’ve all seen the devastating images across America – and around the world – of people losing their homes, their livelihoods, to wildfires, hurricanes or monsoon floods.

While many of them can rebuild, others are not and are forced to pick up and leave.

These are the faces and stories of climate migration. It is estimated that 1.2 billion people will be displaced by climate-related events by 2050. This means that in less than 30 years more than one in eight people will have lost their homes.

Take a minute and let it sink in.

The world is moving fast, and with it, people are moving too. While mobility may increase around the world, the sad truth is that the majority of migrants today find themselves fleeing because they have to, whether because of violence, persecution, starvation , poverty or, increasingly, climatic disasters. When we talk about climate disasters, we are not just talking about sporadic natural disasters. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, floods and droughts, while causing slower onset disasters like desertification and sea level rise.

In fact, since 2008, environmental disasters have displaced around three times as many people as violence and armed conflict. And yet, here in the United States and around the world, there remains a vast legal protection gap between the level of safeguards offered to people seeking protection from violence and persecution and those seeking protection from related disasters. to the climate.

This is partly because climate change often exacerbates other push factors like poverty and may not be identified as the sole reason for displacement. There are also almost no multilateral treaties or national laws dealing with climate displacement, which means people forced from their homes for climate-related reasons have limited legal options for obtaining safe haven elsewhere.

There are, however, concrete steps we can take to address this issue – advocates have called for a new policy architecture for climate migration that would provide people displaced by climate events with legal pathways to resettle somewhere safe.

To date, however, there is not enough national or international consensus to trigger action on this front. This must change and change quickly. Today, the United States welcomes migrants, many of whom are refugees, from almost every country in the world. Yet even in this wealthy country, there are climate migrants, both at home and abroad, who need our support, and whose voices remain unheard.

A flood-affected displaced man stands next to his cattle at a makeshift camp along the floodwaters in Dera Allah Yar in Jaffarabad district of Baluchistan province, Pakistan, October 5, 2022.
FIDA HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Residents of coastal states, from Texas to Florida, are at risk each year as their homes, businesses, and very livelihoods are swept away by hurricanes and tornadoes. These disasters, exacerbated by climate change, can hurt landlords, but can also create even greater problems for renters and the homeless, those who may not have insurance to cover repairs or replacement of their accommodation.

Droughts, in turn, also lead to heat waves that often result in forest fires when dry wood burns, forcing thousands of people to move permanently. Ultimately, failure to recognize migration as a vital climate adaptation strategy would ensure disaster of epic proportions, even within US borders.

The Joseph Family Foundation has, since its inception, been rooted in authenticity, compassion, optimism, and morality; part of the practical help we provide to vulnerable communities across the country and around the world. As part of our mission to bring about positive change, we seek to raise awareness of forced migration due to climate change. By supporting the climate displacement program of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), we hope to give momentum to IRAP’s efforts to create a legal framework for climate-displaced families around the world.

By defining the challenges of our own 21st century and identifying climate change as the main driver of global displacement, we can take positive steps to address this issue.

To that end, we’re hosting our first Betting Against Climate Displacement Casino Night in Nashville, Tennessee on January 27 and inviting others to join our work. By changing perceptions and advocating for a legal framework for people displaced by climate events, we hope to set an example to follow.

Together we can create lasting change.

Sophie Joseph is president of the Joseph Family Foundation.

Lucy Solomon is director of the Joseph Family Foundation.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.


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