Are we unsympathetic towards the climate refugees of today?
Over the years our climate crisis has become an increasing concern. Our interdependence on the environment promises that not only will ecosystems be destroyed, but also societies. Countries such as Bangladesh and Mali do not have the capacity to cope with disasters: it leading to an unnerving impact on not only poverty – but also food insecurity, access to natural resources, and internal conflict. This has materialised into a disconcerting 30.7 million climate refugees. And yet a question remains, is there an absence of sympathy towards climate refugees? Why is there a lack of significant push towards finding refugee placements?
As the impacts of climate change become more palpable the number of climate refugees increases, forcing people from their homes due to rising sea levels and land degradation. There is no doubt that that the climate will become the main driving factor for refugees; with new figures of climate refugees suspected to rise to the billions by 2050. Global warming is set on a trajectory that cannot be completely halted – as seen within the new IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) statistics – meaning these inhabitable areas will only grow larger, and the problem only grow worse.
And yet in comparison with recent events within Ukraine, there is a glaringly obvious lack of mobilisation towards helping climate refugees. Whilst climate refugees have consistently struggled: to be recognised by the law, to be protected by the law, there has been a speedy welcoming of the 4.1 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled their home country. Even the Ukrainian Crisis itself is potentially less threatening than that of the instability within the Sahel – an area experiencing rapid land degradation.
The recent COP26 agreement made no mention of migration issues, even though these are issues which have been present for over fourteen years. This only further highlights the glaring ignorance the Global North has. The lack of action that is being taken.
So why is this the case? Why is there a lack of political will? A lack of political action?
Well, this can be boiled down to two reasons: a lack of awareness on issues, and ideologies rooted within racism. There is an obvious push towards accepting Ukrainian refugees within Europe, as news and governments stress the importance of helping. Countries have even made legal exceptions to quickly help Ukrainians – exceptions that are not seen for climate refugees, the vast majority of whom are people of colour.
There is an obvious racial bias as countries swiftly and sympathetically accept Ukrainian refugees, showing many how countries have ignored the threatened climate refugees not out of a necessity, a lack of ability – but of xenophobia. As well as this, there is a lack of urgency within UK media, that allows to perpetuate a cycle of ignorance and in education within the population. These European biases are also rooted within governments – and their meagre attempts to push climate refugee help and rhetoric. The 1951 UN Refugee Convention was put together by Europeans to give help to Europeans, not to the climate refugees displaced from Africa, Asia and South America.
So, what can be done to help? Well, spreading awareness – even educating yourself and others – is a vital first step in bringing any injustice to light. Charities, such as Refugees International and Relief Web, offer not only well researched data but also opportunities to help (via donation or volunteering). There is a slow movement to recognising climate refugees – particularly within the South – which will hopefully replace the current trend.
 Migration Data Portal., Environmental Migration., 2021., https://www.migrationdataportal.org/themes/environmental_migration_and_statistics  Kamal, Baher., Reliefweb., OCHA., Climate Migrants Might Reach One Billion by 2050., https://reliefweb.int/report/world/climate-migrants-might-reach-one-billion-2050  IPCC., Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability., 2022., https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGII_FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf  BBC., How many Ukrainians have fled their homes and where have they gone?., 31st March 2022., https://www.migrationdataportal.org/themes/environmental_migration_and_statistics  Carter, Phillip., Williams, Bisa., The Hill., Developments in the Sahel could be worse than Ukraine crisis., https://thehill.com/opinion/international/595117-developments-in-the-sahel-could-be-worse-than-ukraine-crisis/  Mahmud., Minahil., UNA-USA Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Fellow., The Issue that COP26 Overlooked; Climate Refugees., https://unausa.org/the-issue-that-cop26-overlooked-climate-refugees/  Sholchet, Catherine., CNN., You asked, we answered: How to help Ukrainian refugees., 2022., https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/18/world/how-to-help-ukrainian-refugees-cec/index.html  Sakellari, Maria., Climate Change and migration in the UK media: How the story is told., 2019., https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1748048519883518
Blog written by Kitty Flynn – Studying Environmentalism.