Understanding the problem

Although climate problems were a main reason for the first migrations of antique societies (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc) these peoples moved in pursuit of better living conditions more than because of exclusively environmental reasons. Nowadays, environmental degradation and climate change are starting to become structural causes for migration. (This will be the main cause in the future). Some parts of the planet will become ejector points due to climate change, originating population transfers due to food and water shortage and the floods and storms increased in frequency and gravity.The terminology itself has semantic issues. The terms “climate refugee” or “environmental refugee” are not totally exact or totally appropriate to describe how it is to be forced to migrate due to the climate change problem. The term to be adopted will have real repercussions in terms of obligations of the international community.

The word refugee is close to the urgency they are going through, but is not exact (although it is closer than the word migrant that implies a voluntary decision for the displacement). What´s more, being a refugee implies crossing an international border line, while someone who displaces inside his or her own country is considered as an internal transfer.

Also, migrant involves those who trespass national frontiers, but most of the people who migrate due to climate issues do it inside their countries. (UNDP: 2009)

These migrants (that are more numerous than the refugees due to politics and war) are in some sort of legal and conceptual loophole, and are not visible for those organizations responsible to collect information about their number or location or guarantee their human rights.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) purposes the following definition: “A migrant due to environmental causes is the person or group of people who are forced to leave their homes or decide to do it voluntarily because of unavoidable, sudden, or progressive environmental changes” On the other hand, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) an environmental migrant are those individuals that are forced to abandon their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, due to an environmental disorder, whether it is a natural danger such as draughts, floods, or hurricanes, or provoked by human activities such as industrial projects that become a danger to health and security. For Castles “this category includes displaced people due to climate change (desertification, deforestation, land degradation, water pollution or floods), natural disasters (overflows, volcano eruptions, mudslide, earthquakes) and disasters caused by humans (industrial accidents, radioactivity)

According to environmentalist Michael Meyer, there were at least 25 million environmental refugees in 1995, turning in 50 million in 2010 and estimating  200 million for the year 2050 the number of people who could be at risk of being displaced.(IOM: 2008)

Forced migration has at least four ways to hinder development: increase the pressure on infrastructure and urban services, mine the economical growth, increase the risk of conflicts and, even among migrants, deteriorate sanitary, educative and social   indicators.  (IOM: 2008)

One of the worst consequences of these massive and forced human displacements will be the collapse of the cities: it was calculated that 1.700 million people will live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, in deficient houses and with scarce water, sanitary and education services.  For many people, being displaced means to lose connection with ancestors and be forced to adopt a completely different life style. Also, it was observed     in developing countries that some consequences of natural catastrophes of high magnitude (Haiti) are militarization, a discretional management of assistance resources, and an international intervention (“humanitarian colonialism”) motivated by geopolitical interests.

Likewise some other consequences of climate caused forced migrations would be: the disorganization of the systems and weakening of the internal market. Besides, the loss of “human capital”, under the form of labor and investment force in education mines the economical growth. This can contribute to limiting the economical opportunities, which will cause a future migration. The population transfers at large scales could redraw the ethnic map of many countries, shortening the distance between groups that used to live separately, and forcing them the fight for the same resources. Undermining of health services and vaccination programs, making difficult to treat infixions sicknesses and increasing its mortality.

It is certainly an irony the fact that the countries with less GHG emissions, the developing countries, are the most affected by climate change. There is a close relation between the occidental development model and ecology and consequently with migration, and this is why developed countries are the ones that have to assume a responsibility according to what they have done.  

Questions for the debate

  1. Who are the climate migrants?
  2. What causes and consequences lead to migration due to climate reasons?
  3. Should the current terminology be kept?
  4. What actions should be undertaken to fight such adverse effects for migrants due to climate reasons?
  5. What is the role of developed countries and which are its effects on developing countries?
  6. Which are the effects that migratory fluxes cause on Climate Change?

Objectives for the table discussion

–          Identify the elements that will let the climate migrants be visible.

–          Debate regarding the pertinent actions to elaborate public policies on climate migrants.

Sub issues

–          Climate migrants.

–          Causes and effects of climate migration.

–          Public policies referred to climate migration.

–          Development models, migration and climate change.