"Climate refugees" a primary challenge or political tool?
An emerging debate on climate refugees highlights the complicated dynamics of linking environmental disasters with their effects that disproportionately affect the poor.
South Africa Node references an article which draws on "reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as the International Red Cross, which identifies climate change as one of the leading causes of the global rise in refugees. Various African figures are provided in support of the argument such as the cyclones that ravaged south-Eastern Africa in 2000 affecting the lives of over 2.5 million people.
However, the World Meteorological Organisation responds: "…There is NO evidence that ‘Rising sea levels, desertification, weather-induced flooding, and frequent natural disasters have become a major cause of population displacement.’ Climate change is being used as a catchall excuse for all manner of societal failings. By diverting attention from the real failings, the real failings are not being addressed - instead, effort is being wasted on attempts to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Any people being displaced today will be long dead before greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to the levels called for.”
IFTF writes that it should come as no surprise that a new pressing issue in poverty might be leveraged for political gain, but this emerging debate does highlight that the challenge of Climate Refugees involves political, economic, social, AND environmental dimensions.
The South Africa Node highlights the author's prescriptions,
Mwebaza [author of the original article] stresses that this category of refugees should find a place in international agreements and governments need to better anticipate support requirements, similar to those of people fleeing other unviable situations. This should be done taking into consideration the needs of women and children who are likely to be hardest hit by impacts of climate change.
She concludes by stating that climate change affects livelihoods that depend on the natural environment, which, in Africa, means nearly everyone. There is therefore the need for African governments and the international community to join forces to create and carry out an effective strategy to curb the effects of climate change and manage natural resources more efficiently. If this is addressed, it may help to reverse population displacements and stem the rising tide of refugees."
Sources:South Africa Node Aug 2010, pg. 3