Key words :
"Where next for Climate Refugees?"
19 Nov, 2009 05:38 pm
A new report of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) predicts 150 million climate refugees by 2050 and calls for a new global legal framework. Scitizen asked Dr. Konstantia Koutouki, the Scientific Director of the CERIUM International and European Environmental Law program, to react on the report.
Not very many. The populations most at risk to suffer from climate change are also some of the poorest in the world. On the international level we have only recently taken the issue of climate change adaptation seriously. There has been so much time wasted deliberating the finer details of whether climate change is happening and if so why, that we did not develop a plan to help people adapt to the environmental changes evidenced world wide. It makes little difference to victims of flooding or drought why it is happening when they are simply trying to survive. Planning for adaptation needs to start immediately simply because the negative impacts of climate change are already present and have quite a lead on adaptation mechanisms.
Do you agree with Prof. Sir Gordon Conway, the outgoing chief scientist at the UK's Department for International Development, who states in the following study, The Science of Climate Change in Africa: Impacts and Adaptation published by the Imperial College London in October, that "Adaptation depends on developing resilience in the face of uncertainty"?
I do agree with Prof. Conway. Human beings are very resilient creatures that have survived many an environmental disaster. Certain peoples such as Indigenous peoples have adapted to various environmental and social catastrophes incredible well. The difference this time around is that climate change impacts are happening at a very accelerated rate not over a long period of time. There is little time to adapt to the new environment. The Inuit of the Arctic provide a perfect example of how difficult it is for a people to adapt effectively to such rapid environmental changes when their culture and lifestyle is founded on a particular natural setting ? in this case ice.
Contrary to a preconceived idea, the EJF report states that "the majority of people will be internally displaced, migrating only short distances from home"...
Internally displaced persons are already a very problematic situation. In the context of climate change what makes the scenario critical is the sheer number of internally displaced people. Unfortunately the carrying capacity of many of the areas displaced people move to is hardly able to support the people already living there, never mind the additional migrants. This extra stress on the resources available creates tensions among the various groups leading to conflict and greater misery for a people already in a desperate situation. We must not forget that in many countries there are several ethic, religious, linguistic groups and hence the tensions that may already be present are aggravated by the need to access limited resources.
The EJF recommends to initiate negotiations for a new legally-binding agreement on climate refugees. How can a global legal framework protect climate refugees and how can it take form?
An international legal instrument specifically protecting environmental refugees would be most welcomed. It would help greatly in providing a legal status for these people. Once recognized as people in need or protection, other international legal instruments can also be used to help their situation. However, law, in general, is a very slow moving entity. I am not sure that a global legal framework would be helpful to environmental refugees in the short term. We most certainly should not wait until we have a treaty in international law dealing with environmental refugees to begin developing adaptation mechanisms to help people cope with the crisis.
It stresses that "many of the countries and populations that will be most affected have some of the lowest per capita greenhouse gaz emissions". Is a truly global cap-and-trade system the solution?
A global cap-and-trade system should be one of several mechanisms employed simultaneously to combat atmospheric and other types of pollution. The problem with emissions trading schemes is that sometimes the polluters with the deepest pockets have little incentive to limit their emissions. Greenhouse gaz emissions are a multi-faceted problem and cannot be eliminated with a one dimensional solution. For example solutions for planned obsolescence, consumerism, lack of political will, little investment in research and development of green energy sources need to be found and the solutions is not necessarily a global cap and trade system.
Download the report "No place like Home - Where next for Climate Refugees?" of the Environmental Justice Foundation
Interview by Clementine Fullias