17 july 2009

Paying the price for climate change

By Jennifer Rankin, European Voice, 16.07.2009

The EU needs to prepare for an influx of migrants seeking a haven from the effects of climate change.

Tens of thousands of people have come to the European Union over the past decade seeking refuge: Iraqis, Afghans and Somalis fleeing war-zones, Russians, Zimbabweans and Iranians escaping persecution. But the next decades will bring a new type of migrant: those seeking a haven from climate disaster.

The EU's foreign policy establishment has woken up to the issue, but experts believe that the right policy response is not yet in place.

In a joint paper last year, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for foreign affairs, concluded that Europe should expect “substantially increased migratory pressure” as a result of climate change.

All predictions in this area are by their nature only speculative, but according to one forecast, there could be 200 million ‘environmentally induced migrants' by 2050. In a recent study, the United Nations University has warned that the mass of people on the move will be unprecedented – and shocking.

As with political refugees, the majority of climate refugees are unlikely to travel far, making displacement a bigger problem for the poorest countries in the world rather than the EU. Solana and Ferrero-Waldner warned that climate change could wipe out years of development efforts.

Vulnerable regions

This is not a distant threat. A recent report by Oxfam suggests that 26 million people have already been displaced as a result of climate change, including the 425,000 people who never returned to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the 800,000 forced out of their homes by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma).

The report identifies other vulnerable regions, such as the Ferghana Valley on the borders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where around 10.5 million people face threats from earthquakes, mudslides and landslides because of melting glaciers.

Nomadic people in Mongolia, Jordan and Iran are struggling to maintain their traditional way of life because of changing extremes of temperatures, dying livestock and drying-out of wetlands and grasslands.

Most dramatic are the threats to low-lying Pacific islands, such as Tuvalu, which could be wiped off the map by rising sea levels.

Ambitious deal

Development campaigners argue that the best response is an ambitious global deal on climate change.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office, said: “Rich countries, who created this climate crisis and have the resources to tackle it, must act now to prevent the mass migrations of the future and help those who are already on the move.”

Oxfam wants rich countries to curb their emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and to spend at least $150 billion (€108 billion) per year to help poor countries deal with climate change.


Read more

>>> Back to list