Climate change creates climate refugees

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After the Midwest floods last month, it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change affects more than just the environment. Severe weather events caused by climate change forces many people out of their homes and even require some to migrate to other countries.

Climate refugees are people who have been displaced from their home due to devastating natural disasters such as floods, windstorms, earthquakes and droughts. In December of 2018, the UN compact finally recognized climate change as an enormous cause of migration. Climate migration experts suggest that in order to stop this issue, we need to first start with limiting climate change, but based on how long it took the UN to even recognize the problem, coming up with a solution that pleases everyone could take a long time.

Locations affected
The United States experienced its own surge of climate refugees in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed homes in New Orleans. Many residents left the city in the aftermath and never returned. According to statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an average of 26.4 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts since 2008. This means that one person is being displaced every second. Climate migration experts suggest that the most effective way to combat this is to increase awareness throughout the world. Citizens need to do their part and speak out against climate change to make legislators and politicians see that it is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer.

Internationally, Africa has been dealing with the effects of climate change since the 1970s. They have experienced a dramatic decrease in rainfall and an increase in intense tropical storms. The IPCC report predicts that in the next 10 years, 75-250 million Africans will be exposed to water stress, and agriculture sustained by rain will drop by 50 percent, causing wheat to be completely gone by the year 2080. Climate change will not only bring droughts and floods but also infectious diseases that many nations are not prepared for. African leaders have spoken out about their need for help, and even though they produce the least amount of emissions, they are at the greatest risk and most vulnerable to the effects.

The problem with the term ‘climate refugee’
The term ‘climate refugee’ is not currently recognized in U.S. law. The law describes refugees as individuals who migrated as a result of being persecuted due to race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular group or political opinion. It includes nothing about climate, so some do not want to consider people displaced from their homes by natural disasters as refugees. This has led to a severe lack of urgency in aiding them.

Another issue that comes with the term is that it may suggest that people are leaving their own country because of climate change, but that is not the reality. Although they are being displaced, they will most likely remain in the same country. Those affected the most by climate change are located in developing continents such as Africa, South America and Asia. Oftentimes, they cannot afford to move internationally, so they have to leave bad conditions for a situation that are only slightly better. The 2018 World Bank report estimated that climate change could drive more than 140 million people to migrate internally within Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Alice Thomas, the climate displacement program manager for the non-profit group Refugees International, has been working on this issue for nearly a decade. Two of Refugees International’s climate displacement programs focus on different countries that are experiencing climate stress. The program’s goals are to improve international protection for people who are forced to flee their home countries due to climate change and to find ways to improve the response to people who are displaced by extreme weather or climate change-related effects.

Since climate refugees are not technically recognized, they end up with nowhere to turn and could be forced to enter countries illegally. The discussion on climate change has been long, with many disputes between political parties on how it should be handled.

“Only in the U.S. has climate change been politicized,” secondary social studies teacher Pat Steed said. “The discussion on it has not made any real progress.”

Both parties have expressed interest in understanding what is causing climate change and how to prevent it from worsening. In spite of that fact, the parties have not come to an agreement on how to go about counteracting it. The Democratic party has created the Green New Deal, a 14 page document that includes ideas on how the United States could start to reduce the amount of pollution the country creates. The Green New Deal is an attempt to address these climate issues while also paying attention to social and political groundwork. When the Green New Deal was first proposed in October 2018, the majority of the Republican party had concerns about it being unaffordable and impossible to do in the 10 years that the deal proposes.

“The inclusion of politics should make it that much more important to individuals as we elect officials who are providing arguments to legislators,” secondary teaching assistant Diana Bastidas said.

After finally being recognized by the UN, the issue of what to do with climate refugees might soon be resolved. In order for that to happen, America must find a resolution that pleases both political parties.

“Climate change and climate refugees are a science, security and human rights issue,” Steed said. “We need our politicians to work on solutions instead of burying their heads in fear.”