Welcome to Louder Than The Storm’s Refugee x Climate Crisis Spotlight Day. Through these spotlight days we endeavour to platform and highlight key aspects of the Climate Crisis which often get overlooked. We aim to amplify marginalised voices, share knowledges and experiences, and learn about the crucial intersections of social issues with the Climate Crisis. By sharing what we learn, welcoming new perspectives, and starting conversations, together we can start to create change.
Typical climate narratives extend years into the future, creating the illusion that the ‘real’ Climate Crisis is yet to begin. This is not true. The Climate Crisis is already a reality for many communities around the world, the majority of them residing in the Global South. However, this conceptual distancing is allowing policy makers in the Global North to keep their heads in the sand and feign ignorance, meaning that we are yet to see real meaningful action at a policy level.
The Climate Crisis is already a reality for many communities around the world, the majority of them residing in the Global South.
This is afflicting one group in particular: climate refugees.
The link between the Climate Crisis and the experiences of refugees is, perhaps, not that obvious. Yet in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that the single greatest impact of the Climate Crisis would be on human migration. In 2018, the UN adopted a ‘Global Compact on Refugees’ which stated that ‘climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements.’ Although this points to a broad awareness of the overlap between the Climate Crisis and refugees, international law says otherwise.
Those who are displaced from their home due to climate changes are not considered refugees.
As it stands, a refugee is someone who has crossed an international border owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Nowhere does the law account for those forced from their homes by the consequences of the Climate Crisis.
It is widely accepted that climatic changes brought about by global heating will cause resources, such as drinking water, to become scarce, provoke adverse weather events and more frequent natural disasters. It is also clear that changes in weather patterns will most likely be detrimental to livestock and harvests causing heightened food insecurity. These shifts, in turn, will forcibly displace communities residing in vulnerable areas.
Nowhere does the law account for those forced from their homes by the consequences of the Climate Crisis.
When and if these people are forced by climatic changes to cross an international border they will not be legally recognised as refugees, nor have the right to claim asylum. Another complication is that climate refugees often do not leave their country of origin, instead fleeing their homes to another region, which excludes them from recognition by the law.
The problem is that this is happening right now. However, communities who claim their homes are at risk directly or indirectly because of the Climate Crisis are coming up against a global society which does not want to acknowledge that this is a real and current reality.
The problem is that this is happening right now.
Further, the people and the communities who most need the law on their side often do not have a seat at the policy-making table, nor are their own lifestyles responsible for the Climate Crisis. It is us, in the Global North, who hold the greatest responsibility for where we find ourselves, and it is us in the Global North who can do something about it.
What can we do?
The clear first step is to broaden the definition of ‘refugee’ in international law to acknowledge and recognise climate refugees. In the coming weeks we will be launching a campaign in collaboration with other climate and refugee organisations.
Second to that is to recognise that there is no single global ‘we’ when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Those of us who have the ability to use our voices must do so with the privilege that this represents in mind. We must use our voices to speak on behalf of people who cannot and to amplify their voices, but must also endeavour not to speak for them. By recognising the intersectionality of this crisis, by standing up for social issues of human rights, gender, refugees, and race amongst others, we confront the crisis as a whole.
It starts with each and every one of us.
Written by Louder Than The Storm Co-Founder Aimée Lister