Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: climate change puts humanity on the move

People have always been on the move to some extent. The fossil record tells us our species spread out from a small troupe of ancestors in the Rift Valley in Africa to cover the globe. Presumably people have always moved about for the same reasons we do today: better opportunity (more to eat, more water), to escape competing or hostile humans, or following some spirit of exploration.

Scientists predict the effects of climate change will put millions more on the move. Alex Randall of the UK Climate and Migration Coalition argues that we should avoid adopting simplistic pictures of "climate refugees."

...People facing the prospect of moving hope that they will have some choice in the timing and circumstances of their movement and that when they arrive they will find work and become active members of their new communities. Their hope is that they will move with dignity.

... Apart from people's own rejection of the "climate refugee" term there are also several other problems. It's clear that there are connections between climate change and the movement of people, but the connections are not as clear as the "climate refugee" narrative suggests. The phrase conjures images of large numbers of people moving en masse over long distances and crossing international borders and possibly continents. It seems unlikely that climate change will produce this kind of human movement.

What seems more likely is that climate change might reinforce existing trends in short-term, short distance migration. For example, as subsistence farmers find it increasingly difficult to make a living in rural areas they may move to nearby cities to find work. Whole towns or villages will not move together: in fact, families may not even move together. Far more likely is that one or two household members will move, find work elsewhere and send money home to their community.

That sounds more like the European movement that populated the Americas with white people than what we've seen of displacement in the contemporary wars of the Middle East -- or in the wholesale transfer of people in the European wars of the 20th century.

Many countries including Australia treat the advancing movement of people as a security threat. Latin Americans take a more nuanced view.

The Environmental Justice Foundation, a UK non-profit working internationally and the makers of the video that heads this post, think the world needs a United Nations special rapporteur on climate change and human rights -- somebody whose business it is look out for how nations are treating climate migrants.

International negotiations on climate change have so far failed to adequately address the humanitarian and human rights impacts of climate change.

It is now time for the Human Rights Council to take positive action to safeguard these rights under threat and support the governments of the first and worst affected countries.

“Climate change is related not only to environmental factors but also to poverty, discrimination and inequalities – this is why climate change is a human rights issue.” Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights ...

The [special raporteur's] mandate should [be to] take stock of impacts of climate change, mitigation, adaptation on human rights and provide inputs to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

It could include identification and awareness raising awareness of best practices and make recommendations to governments and the international community about how we can best safeguard human rights in our changing world.

It seems a weak response, but until problems are named and described, they will not be acted on. Sign EJF's petition here.

This is an international Blog Action Day post, raising up issues of human rights for all.

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