For World Refugee Day: Protecting climate refugees

International awareness of the climate emergency has arguably never been higher. The move to decarbonise much of our economy and society to tackle the causes of global warming at source has begun to accelerate. In the UK, we are even starting to have entire days and weeks where our national grid is powered without the use of harmful fossil fuels.

All of this action is taken to avoid the mass loss of life, livelihoods, jobs, and the environment that the climate crisis threatens. Other people living around the world are, tragically, already living with the consequences.
Of the estimated 65 million displaced persons around the world, 20 million are believed to have been displaced as a result of the climate crisis.

Currently, the United Nations operates under the 1951 Refugee Convention’s definition of refugees and legitimate claims of asylum. Like those fleeing war or famine, climate refugees have been displaced both as a direct and indirect consequence of global warming. Permanent destruction of crop yields, for example, has made living and working in some areas impossible.

Displacement and mass movement puts pressure on natural resources, services, and can ignite political tensions. Despite this, those seeking safety following displacement as a result of the climate emergency are not legally protected. As the climate crisis inevitably worsens year on year, millions more become at risk of being displaced with no protection; the vulnerable becoming more vulnerable.

To me, there are no truer Liberal Democrat values than our commitment to environmentalism and internationalism. These two values meet in the case of climate refugees, an issue which I firmly believe should be at the top of our next leader’s agenda. We need to show leadership and courage on this issue, to make the case for a new and, possibly controversial, legal protection that will require international cooperation and bravery in the face of criticism from those on all sides who do not share our values.

During the age of climate emergency, it is our duty as liberals to ensure the lives of the most vulnerable around the world are protected. Let’s be bold and take on this liberal cause: Protect climate refugees – now!

* James Cox is a teacher in Oxfordshire, an Executive member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary exec member and has a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

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  • suzanne fletcher 21st Jun '20 - 12:07pm

    Good thoughtful piece, hope it gets spread around.
    for interest this is a leaflet I wrote for a Refugee Week event with Fairtrade refreshments 2 years ago.
    any ideas or thoughts to better it welcome.
    Fairtrade works to reduce poverty in developing countries. It supports producers to work their way out of poverty, making sure they have a fair income for their products and their work.
    Fairtrade gives people more power by training them to run their small businesses, and distribute the social premium in a democratic way to improve their community. Money from the social premium is often directed towards education at every level.
    Fairtrade is sustainable, not damaging the environment. Also it helps people to develop ways of combatting climate change by using different farming techniques and seeds and by supporting them in reducing dependence on one product.
    At the heart of Fairtrade is Trade Justice.
    In other words – Fair Trade is a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty and exploitation, climate change and the economic crises that have the greatest impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
    It is possible for it to play its part in making countries less likely to be ones that people need to flee, and become refugees in countries elsewhere.

  • The so called climate refugees are likely to also be in poverty and socially disadvantaged for other reasons. Forced migration due to climate change needs to be managed either by the UN or regional bodies. Otherwise fleeing migrants will only contribute to the very issue that caused them to migrate.

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