Australia is in the midst of one of its worst fire seasons on record, with bushfires burning since September and claiming nearly 30 lives, killing more than a billion animals and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria (or 3 times Belgium, my homecountry).Almost 16 million acres of bushland equivalent to half the size of England has now been destroyed, with one billion animals feared to have perished. Many species have now been driven closer to extinction and the devastated koala population could soon be listed as endangered.
And this is just the beginning, or just as sir David Attenborough said: The moment of crisis has come. One important consequence of climate change are climate refugees.The UN assumes 200 million displaced persons by 2050 if we dont tackle advancing climate change.
The International Organization for Migration assumes even 1 billion by 2050. The International Federation of the Red Cross estimates there are as many as 50 million climate refugees, yet no international legal framework exists for them.Legal debateA climate refugee does not legally exist.
Its a relatively new phenomenon. Climate refugees are often difficult to identify. As a result, these people do not enjoy the same rights as other conventional refugees.
The 1951 Refugee Convention is clear about who gets refugee status: A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.
War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. People who are forced to leave their homes due to climate change are (still) not included. Its time to change that.
We need to start talking about climate refugees. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Climate change affects the weakestIn 2006, the Stern Review, an influential report on the effects of climate change on the world economy, warned that one of the greatest consequences of climate change would be mass migration.
Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people would have to move, said Nicholas Stern, the economist behind the report, in an interview with The Guardian. Many conflicts today pose an immense risk in areas such as West Africa, the Nile basin and Central Asia. These risks will not disappear.
The reasons are the following: Climate changeWe know climate change will have an enormous impact on how we live, how we move, what well eat, and so on. According to NASA (see video) it will hit hardest in the North Pole, Greenland, Northern Canada and Russia. Everything depends largely on whether we will be able to limit the temperature rise to a reasonable 1.
5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. The higher the temperature rise, the higher the risks.Large parts of North Africa and Asia will have to deal with scorching heat and drought.
Agriculture and food production will suffer. The world population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050. With 3.
4 billion more mouths to feed, and the growing desire of the middle class for meat and dairy in developing countries, global demand for food could increase by between 59 and 98 percent. This means that agriculture around the world needs to step up production and increase yields. It seems that warmer sea surface temperatures tend to generate longer and more intense cyclones.
These will intensify and not spare (often fragile) infrastructure. Water scarcity will become a reality in different parts of the world and floods will become an even more frequent sight in our daily news.These prospects combined with rising sea levels, soil degradation, salinification and subsidence, erosion or serial depletion of fishing grounds will have massive effects on how people organize their lives.
The danger is that these developments are slow and therefore less visible. This will cause food scarcity, social inequality or, worse, civil wars and conflict. Millions will get uprooted.
Population densityWorld population has reached 7.5 billion. Where do we live?
Europe is one of the most densely populated areas in the world (as shown on the map below). I live in a very densely populated area of Brussels, Belgium. But we are a rich (polluting) region.
Well manage. The population density in Asia, and in particular Central and South-East Asia is particularly high to very high, as are the coastal areas of the United States. Parts of Africa, countries such as Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana are pretty crowded.
MAP 1. Junuxx at en. wikipedia [ CC-BY-SA-3.
0 or GFDL ], via Wikimedia Commons PovertyNow, if you take a look at countries where most people live in extreme poverty, youll see that most of these countries are located just above and below the equator: almost every country in Africa, India, parts of Asia and Latin America. The world population is becoming richer. Check Hans Rosling convincingly arguments in Factfulness.
And thats a good thing. But that does not alter the fact that many still live in (extreme) poverty, where we do not have an immediate structural solution. Countries by percent of population living below $1.
25 per day in 2011 in dollars. Based on World Bank 2018 API which ranges from 1995 to 2017 Peter Lonjers CC BY-SA 4.0SolutionsSo, a changing climate will undoubtedly impact the situation in the southern hemisphere.
Densely populated areas suffering from climate catastrophe in combination with extreme poverty will bear conflicts. It aint rocket science.The European Unions collective ecological footprint is the worlds third-highest, behind the United States and China.
Thats huge. We are responsible for what is happening today. And what does Fortress Europe do?
They tend to build higher walls. They are delaying strong long-term climate-measures (because elections are deemed more important). On top of that, we are dealing with right-wing populist politicians who use the fate of refugees for their political agenda and populist discourse.
Shameful. So, the judicial debate on climate refugees being a complex problem is an understatement. There is no conclusive solution in the short run.
Yet my country (Belgium) and Europe can take action to achieve a more sustainable solution in the long term. First, we need to pursue bold climate efforts to achieve the common goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement not mentioning the judicial status of climate refugees constitutes a missed opportunity.
We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 to zero. Zero, zero, zero. In addition, we must find a way to reduce our current ecological footprint.
The problem is that our current economic system does not allow it.Secondly, work on socially just alternatives. Circular economy (Be gone disposable culture!
), only renewable energy sources (Be gone fossil fuels!) and a more Keynesian government policy (Be gone liberalization or privatization!) can create perspectives.
The Case for the Green New Deal (Here is a story I wrote on the GND). Its a good thing that Europe, with the new president of the European Commission von der Leyden gets it (a bit). But its not enough.
Urgency is mounting. Even if the Commission could realize its current plans for a GND, it would still be only the first step of many that will be needed to tackle Europes twin crises of austerity, and climate and environmental breakdown. And if you combine this with the gratuitous pursuit of profit, the sole focus on economic growth and the canonization of the market, its not very encouraging.
Photo by Ben White on UnsplashLast but not least, international solidarity will become more and more necessary and important. Many refugees often flee to neighboring countries, which are often just as hard in trouble. More development aid is needed.
Otherwise, we will see dangerous, conflictual situations with massive global implications. And this is something we need to prevent at all costs.