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Migration and climate justice
NewsNotes, January-February 2010

As Congress prepares to work on an immigration reform bill in 2010 while continuing to work on the details of climate justice, members of Mobilization for Climate Justice’s Climate Justice and Migration Working Group recently issued a statement pointing to the critical links between climate and migration. The following article highlights main points from the position statement, which can be found here.

[As] national and international faith-based, human rights and immigrant rights organizations concerned with climate change and its effect on migration around the world, the Climate Justice Migration Working Group lifts up the fact that an estimated 25 to 50 million people have already been displaced due to environmental factors, and that number could rise to 150 million by 2050. The statement acknowledges the ways in which policies and corporate practices negatively impact environmental conditions around the world creating conditions where migration and movement are people’s only option.

The statement cites research by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification representative Massimo Candelori that reports that the combined effect of climate variation and unsustainable agricultural practices causes erosion and soil depletion, which leads to meager harvests. The statement points to melting glaciers in Bolivia that left rocky soil which can no longer support the traditional farming practices of its inhabitants: “[I]nstead of being able to sustain themselves with their crops and sell the surplus,…Bolivian farmers face hunger as their harvests diminish…This and similar phenomena affect the traditional lifestyles of a range of citizens, and have led to the movement of peoples throughout Latin America.”

Most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa will be especially vulnerable to environmental strains because they lack “the resources and infrastructure to adapt traditional agricultural practices to new weather patterns and soil conditions.” Since most African agriculture is rain-fed rather than irrigated, it is vulnerable to both floods and droughts caused by climate change. African farmers will be forced to move and seek new land to cultivate.

Though most of the carbon emissions that cause these climatic changes come from Northern countries, about one third of less industrialized countries are threatened by rising sea levels, and have large proportions of their populations living in low-elevation coastal areas. But in most cases, countries do not have the capacity to cope with the destabilizing factors of climate change.

The statement calls for:

  • International protection of the human rights of people displaced due to environmental factors, including recognition of refugee status and guarantee of all ... rights and accommodations achieved through support and expansion of international rights agreements on refugees, the internally displaced and migrants, as well as the formulation of multilateral migration agreements.
  • Recognition of the right of human mobility.
  • Increased policy and public awareness of environmental refugee and migration issues, including investment in further research drawing the link between environmentally degrading practices, climate change, and migration.
  • Provision of a legal framework and financial assistance to allow migrants displaced from their home countries entrance to other countries.
  • International recognition of the ways in which climate change has impinged on the rights of nations, as outlined by UN conventions.
  • Provision for nations whose security is threatened by the disappearance of habitable land. As these “disappearing states” lose territory, we affirm the right of every nation to sovereignty.
  • A reduction of domestic carbon emissions, mindful of the ways in which our energy use endangers the environment internationally. We ask that the U.S. and other developed nations model environmental responsibility by adhering to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s suggestions, which indicate that the global community must reduce emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 and by a minimum of 80 percent by 2050, below a 1990 baseline, in order to remain sustainable.

For more information on the Climate Justice and Migration Working Group, contact Michelle Knight at the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, or Colin Rajah at the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights.

Also see Migration: A defining moment, NewsNotes, July-August 2009.

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