Poverty & Global Climate Migration

The climate change framework that I set forth in the course accompanying this blog focuses on a broad “No Natural Disasters” protection of those vulnerability to climate change. Climate migration is already underway and has many causes. The ethical approaches should acknowledge human rights, responsibility for climate change, and the root of the moral obligations. A broad analysis requires not just the responsibility for and effects of climate change. It requires looking into the global conditions contributing to major disparities in poverty, disease, and access to education, technology, and healthcare.

Rising temperatures will continue to make areas too hot for living and the National Academy of Sciences predicts that by 2070 extremely hot zones could cover 20 percent of all land. They now cover only one percent. Rising sea levels will endanger some low-lying coastal areas and islands have already considered population relocation. Pacific Islanders barely contribute to  greenhouse gas emissions yet they bear the burden of rising sea levels threatening their land, their freshwater sources, tourism dollars, and housing.

Even where the weather itself remains bearable, economics cause migration. If land that people grow food on for subsistence or for sale becomes too dry to produce food, people will find themselves both food insecure, possibly starving, and financially impoverished. El nino causes land to dry out. In Mexico and Guatemala climate change relocation is common, forcing 700,000 people in Mexico per year to relocate. While adapting by crop selection is possible in some cases, it is unlikely to be a successful long-term adaptation measure. In other areas, fishing for subsistence and industry is failing. Adaptation measures in the home country as well as globally are necessary along with climate change mitigation strategies. That is, strategies to slow climate change and to prevent vulnerability to it need to happen concurrently.

Climate change mitigation strategies and global and local adaptation must be multidimensional. Those most vulnerable to climate change suffer in other ways. Their vulnerability often includes preexisting poverty or over-reliance on a single industry which is vulnerable to the environment. Diversifying sources of income should be incorporated in the process of harm reduction and adaptation. A shift from subsistence farming and one-industry exports to the global opportunities available in a connected world would propel possibilities. Alleviating economic vulnerability would eliminate the need to migrate in some geographical settings (where living is possible but earning enough to import food and live comfortably is not), while in others (where the climate makes the land uninhabitable) it would increase opportunity in the migration process, provide the ability to afford relocation, and alleviate the need to rely on humanitarian aid. Strategies to improve per capita GDP, improve the ability of people to save money include education and empowerment.

The redistribution of populations will have political, economic, and social implications. An openness to receiving refugees includes resettling and ending potential discriminatory practices. International refugee law and international environmental law offer some guidance. Ensuring a smooth transition could change the face of mass migration. Learning from the Mexican border, Syrian refugees, and migrants drowning between Africa and Europe, something is not working in intercontinental migration. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and Central America are already significantly impacted. The IASC Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters – Protecting Persons Affected by Natural Disasters provide a rights-based approach for humanitarian organizations. Those welcoming migrants, an ethical obligation many countries share, should do so in accordance with accepted human rights principles. An alignment of national politics and global agreements could resolve some human rights violations. But political will remains an issue in immigration policy.

Industrialized countries that financially benefited from corporate polluters cause so much of the greenhouse gas emissions that their obligations to others are morally obligatory. But those obligations are not legally settled. And the big picture question calling for analysis remains: why is global poverty so persistent?

This article by Saber Salem was found in E-International Relations and includes helpful references.

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