By: Kumi Naidoo

2016-09-22 13:12:06

Model to Gauge Climate Impact on Displacement

At the inaugural U.N. meeting on Refugees and Migrants, environmental advocate Kumi Naidoo opens our series “Voices from the Summit” by calling for greater recognition of the links between climate change, conflict and the accelerated movement of peoples.

Refugees Deeply: With the nexus between climate change, displacement and conflict – how are these three issues connected? Is there enough research and is there enough concerted action based on this research?

Kumi Naidoo: I would say first that there is probably not enough research. Having said that, I think the difficulty we have with climate change generally as an issue is that we are never able to show data causality. For example, we know that in the 10 years before resistance a certain percentage of the fertile land of Syria was not usable for agriculture because of climate-induced desertification. That’s what moved large numbers of people. Now obviously that was not the only driver, right? So it’s hard to quantify exactly how the climate impact contributes to it.

This is a problem generally when we look at extreme weather, melting of the polar ice caps and so on. Quite often the challenge is you cannot say X led to Y. I don’t think there’s enough public conversation about it.

The only person, for example, in the U.S. presidential election that made a connection between migration conflict and climate change was Bernie Sanders and even within the Democratic Party he got ridiculed for making that.

If we look at resource conflicts, for example, with Darfur, the genocide there and the movement of people, internal displacement and so on, we know that most probably the tragedy of Darfur will be recognized in the aftermath as the first major resource war brought about as a result of climate impacts. This was basically the Sahara Desert’s marching southward at the rate of almost a mile a year. Lake Chad being one of the largest lakes in the world, which is right next to Darfur, shrank to the size of a pond, to put it in the words of Ban Ki-moon.

It is absolutely clear that it is happening on a significant scale, whether it’s the people living in the coastal parts of Bangladesh or in Mali, Niger and so on. Parts of Africa, for example, are becoming depopulated. I would say there’s a real gap for a research initiative to try to track this.

Refugees Deeply: There is also displacement in non-conflict situations due to climate impact. Is there greater consciousness that future displacement is also going to take place in countries that are showing progress in terms of their development?

Naidoo: I think there’s still a lot of cognitive dissonance about understanding some of those internal migrations in this context. There are really high levels of denial.

I would say that the people who have been most vocal on this that I know have been the folks from Bangladesh. At every Climate Conference [COP] since 2009 they’ve been organizing workshops on climate-induced migration.

In taking this discussion further, we need to develop tools to help quantify to the best of our ability, “what was the impact in certain circumstances which drove migration?”

Then there are also different kinds of conflict, right? There are conflicts between the state and citizens like in Syria but then there are community-level conflicts as well, which are about very basic resources like water wells, food sources, grazing rights, etc.

In Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya, people of different language groups have lived peacefully for a very, very long time. But as Lake Turkana started drying up and livelihoods started being threatened, we saw a major spike in intra-community violence, which then led to forced migration. So that’s also happening.

But there are also lots of cases such as India; there might not be physical violence and so on but there have been such massive changes in weather patterns that particularly for people engaged in subsistence agriculture, climate impacts have actually forced people to leave places where historically they were able to live decently.

If you were to put a typography to it, there are probably three types of areas where climate plays a part. One is where there’s a conflict between a state and a large portion of the citizens, like in Syria, and where climate is an exacerbating factor. The second thing would be where intra-community conflicts and inter-community conflicts are taking place at the grassroots level, with the state stepping in to try to play a mediating role and calm things down. The third case would be where, in fact, conflict or violence has not emerged but people actually move because water sources and food sources are drying up.

Refugees Deeply: You have highlighted people losing their livelihoods and indigenous ways of living in your work, and also rural to urban migration and how it’s going at an artificial pace. Could you elaborate on this trend and its implications for cities and the environment?

Naidoo: Rural [to] urban migration has been with us for as long as cities started emerging. But in the past 20 to 50 years migration from rural to urban areas has intensified and it would be interesting to understand the impact on agriculture and subsistence agriculture because of soil depletion, water scarcity and drought in all sorts of climate-intensified factors.

I have no doubt in my mind that it’s intensified because people do not have access to food and so on – in places like Niger and Mali where people have had to move because where they were doing agriculture in the past it’s just not a possibility anymore because it’s so hard to depend on rain-fed agriculture these days. However, I should concede that this is based on anecdotal evidence rather than having seen a scientific research study on it.

Refugees Deeply: Have you seen any change over the years in how the U.N. and the international community in general have been approaching this? Where are they failing in making the connections?

Naidoo: By the end of 2015 there were close to 250 million people that reside in countries other than their own. Of those about 20 million are considered refugees, right? If you look at the current moment compared historically, this is the biggest movement of peoples we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War. The U.N.and the whole international system should be rising up to address the problem with the same kind of energy, effort and so on that we dealt with the European refugee crisis after the Second World War. We’re not seeing that and we must ask ourselves, is it because of the world we live in, which is one where we suffer from economic apartheid, social apartheid, and is it also us suffering from a kind of migration apartheid?

With Western countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. creating a crisis like the one in Iraq, we are not seeing the same kind of generosity and urgency.

Refugees Deeply: Where are the gaps and how can the U.N. better address them?

Naidoo: There are four areas where the U.N. is failing.

First is financing. We need increasing levels of finance as a priority for managing migration and facilitating integration. I know that theE.U., for example, could make much greater use of their borrowing capacity. International financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF could more closely integrate their economic development and humanitarian financing in countries of first arrival. What we need here is massive investment reminiscent of the Marshall Plan following the end of the Second World War, where European migration was a big issue.

The second issue is education. I think there has to be a much deeper pot to provide for the education of migrants from preschool all the way to university. To be fair, there are many education initiatives underway for migrants today. But more is needed to meet the needs.

The third issue is that of identification. Movement often occurs in pretty precarious conditions, in which refugees may lose their identity documents or they might consider possession of identity documents dangerous or have their documents seized by people smugglers or others. What the international system needs to do is create a new form of legal identity documentation that serves the needs of migrants without putting them in danger and avoiding links to any earlier identity status or country of origin. Such a documentation system may be able to benefit from lessons with identification cards already successfully issued for undocumented migrants by some local governments in Europe at the moment. So you introduce such a system on a global basis to consolidate initiatives already springing up on a more ad hoc basis. It makes it possible to monitor the scale of movement across borders in a way that harmonizes human rights, protection and security.

The fourth area where I think there’s much more that the international community and the U.N. should be doing to help countries that are receiving migrants, is with integration. It has been very painful to see the fear and hostility that greet migrants in so many parts of the world. I’m afraid it’ll grow worse if migrants and refugees are left without access to housing, employment, healthcare and other social support.

Expanding global capacity for private placements from the tens of thousands available today to hundreds of thousands or millions will require a network of intermediary community-based organizations that can facilitate this.

Unless civil society is part of it, we have a huge problem. If you look at when Angela Merkel tried to take a more humane approach, she would not have succeeded in going against some of the people in her own party if there hadn’t been citizens arriving at train stations welcoming refugees and so on

Reposted from Friday 19 September 2016


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