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Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US

This week, civil society leaders from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, and made a global declaration on climate change induced displacement. Español

A rally by the organisation "No Climate Change" dresses up as US President Donald Trump, riding a vehicle being pulled by "polar bears" in Bonn, Germany, 11 November 2017. Photo: Bernd Thissen/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

This article is part of our series on the 2017 International Civil Society Week, where CIVICUS and the Pacific Islands Association of non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) brought civil society members and activists from around the world together to discuss some of the key challenges our planet is facing. You can see more of what came out of the event here.

The United States’ abandonment of global migration and climate change agreements in the same year could be disastrous for climate refugees.

When it comes to addressing the growing problem of climate change induced displacement, neither the UN’s Global Compact on Migration nor the Paris Climate Change agreement go far enough. With or without the support of the United States, we need both of these agreements to be more ambitious and implemented faster, to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Yet despite the challenges, here at the epicentre of climate displacement, across the Pacific, people are searching for higher ground, rather than giving up. That’s why this week, we, civil society leaders from around the world, are making a global declaration on climate change induced displacement.

During this week’s International Civil Society Week (ICSW) meeting in Suva, Fiji, we’ve heard from people from around the world, who are grappling with global problems at the local level.

They include leaders from across the Pacific who are fighting the twin global problems of nuclear waste and climate change. In the Marshall Islands, leftover nuclear waste from US nuclear tests have already left Runit Island uninhabitable. Now rising sea levels are leaving the people of the Marshall Islands with fewer and fewer options of dry land that is also safe from radiation.

The good news of 2017, although it will not help the Marshall Islands, is that UN member states - 53 so far - banded together to introduce a nuclear test ban treaty. It may be a pipe dream – as rhetoric between North Korea and the United States escalates – but it was a show of unity, that together we can achieve seemingly impossible global goals.

That the Nobel Prize committee chose to honour the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) with the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to achieve the treaty, was also a major recognition of the work that civil society coalitions do, often behind the scenes, to solve global problems.

Civil society is also working tirelessly behind the scenes on other global issues, including climate change and migration. Collectively we believe that now is the time to sound the alarm on an emerging global problem unlike any we have seen before.

While conflicts, natural disasters, poverty and famine have all caused mass displacement in the past, climate change induced displacement will be like nothing we have ever seen before. And, it will come on top of the displacement from conflicts, poverty and inequality that we are already struggling to coordinate.

This year’s disastrous hurricane season in the Caribbean was particularly severe because of warmer oceans. We’ve season unprecedented cyclones in the Pacific over the past two years. Already, entire islands are being left uninhabitable for months, but soon the equation may change and that time period may become years.

We also need governments to recommit to the human rights of people who are forced to move because of climate change.

And while climate induced displacement is often associated with small tropical islands, that’s far from the whole picture. Droughts spurred on by super El Ninos force farmers off their land. Monsoonal floods of low-lying highly populated river delta areas leave millions homeless year in year out. And these are all events that are happening already. As temperatures rise, oceans warm and acidify, weather events become more severe, the situation will only get worse.

That’s why, this week, CIVICUS, together with the Pacific Islands Development Forum are calling for the UN’s global migration compact to recognise climate change as a driver of both internal and international displacement.  In the words of my colleagues from the Pacific Islands, this means striving first and foremost to limit warming to 1.5 degrees: “1.5 to stay alive.”

We also need governments to recommit to the human rights of people who are forced to move because of climate change. It’s also important that we commit to those who are the most vulnerable to climate displacement and include them in our efforts to find solutions.

For those on the frontlines of climate-induced migration, there is really no choice. We have to act now, because “we’re not drowning,” not yet, not now, not ever, “we’re fighting.”

About the author

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance with members in more than 175 countries.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah es secretario general y director ejecutivo de CIVICUS. Puede encontrarlo en Twitter y Facebook por la dirección @civicussg.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah é secretário-geral e diretor-executivo da CIVICUS. Dhananjayan pode ser contatado pelo Twitter e Facebook no endereço eletrônico @civicussg. 


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