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Climate Refugees in the 21st Century : promoting solutions to help environmentally displaced persons

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Climate Refugees in the 21st Century : promoting solutions to help environmentally displaced persons

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Samenvatting

This paper focuses on the concept climate refugees in the 21st Century and mainly concerns environmentally displaced persons from developing countries. It seeks to answer the following question: 'Should the concept of climate refugees best be approached from a juridical or an environmental point of view?'
Climate refugees are described as 'people who have to leave their habitats, immediately or in the near future, because of sudden or gradual alterations in their natural environment related to at least one of three impacts of climate change: sea-level rise, extreme weather events, drought and water scarcity' (Biermann & Boas, 2007, p.8) . There are other man-made factors that lead to environmentally displaced people such as the irresponsible labour of multinationals. Nevertheless, these are not included in the essay because they are mainly linked to socio-economic aspects and do not have a direct link to climate change.
Forced mass-migration as a result of the Western economies' increased consumption of fossil fuels is a phenomenon that only started to have a significant impact in the 20th century. So far, approximately 25 million people worldwide have been displaced due to environmental stress, which is more than the 22 million refugees which fled from war and other types of persecution (Conisbee & Simms, 2003).Future predictions estimate there will be 150 million climate refugees by the year 2050.
Africa, Asia, South America and the islands participating in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Project of the United Nations are regarded as the world's hotspots for environmental disasters (Chhabara, 2008). These countries are particularly susceptible to environmental disasters because they often depend on sectors that are sensitive to the impacts of climate change (Bridges, 2006). While climate change is known to be a partially 'man-made' phenomenon and Western countries have a large share in global warming, the United Nations do not officially recognize climate refugees. This deprives these refugees of their possible claims to asylum and basic human rights. The current developing economic crisis poses an extra strain on attempts to solve the problem, even though during a summit in 2008 the UN and several international NGOs warned procrastinating environmental policies will only make the (financial) situation worse.
At present, an adequate policy that deals with climate refugees does not exist due to a general fear of population issues of Western policy makers. Hence, they refuse to acknowledge the matter as both a human and political problem. Also, the majority of 'potential' recipient countries are afraid to accept more refugees and maintain strict border controlling policies which fuel the discussion regarding the main caretaker of the climate refugees: should it be the country of origin of the refugees, the 'polluter' countries or the UNHCR?
It is still being discussed who is going to pay the $86 billion per year (Gupta, 2008) that development countries need to deal with the impacts of climate change. At the UN Climate Talks in Poland in 2008 it was made clear Western countries are not willing to pay more. The 'polluter-pays' principle, derived from the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development accepted by the UN in 1992, could be a solution to the problem. The Declaration identifies the protection of the environment and the cooperation of governments all over the world to secure long-term social and economic development (Cleveland, Cutler & Kubiszewski, 2007). However, it is legally non-binding thus states have no obligations whatsoever. Former attempts to apply the 'polluter-pays' principle did not have the expected effect because countries were not willing to spend the amount of money that was necessary.
The British Foreign Secretary and the UN Secretary-General are of opinion that the climate refugee issue is likely to develop into a situation of conflict and human insecurity. Myers (2001;2005), Wisner et el. (2007) and Boras Pentinat (2006) made predictions in regard to the scenarios which are likely to result in a situation of conflict. Firstly, the recipient country could regard the settlement of climate refugees in their country as a threat to 'social cohesion and national identity' (Myers, 2001, p.6). Which in turn could lead to 'outbreaks of ethnic tension, civil disorder and political upheaval' (Myers, 2001, p.6). Secondly, an unsteady economy could be provoked by population pressures in the recipient country. Thirdly, the threats mentioned above could trigger populist and military coups (Wisner, 2007). Fourthly, large population movements can lead to spreading diseases followed by an inevitable 'competition for natural resources between refugees and host populations' (Low, n.d, para.2). Finally, as men are often the head of a household there will be a largely male mass-migration in search of work, which will result in vulnerable 'gender-dimensioned' societies primarily existing of women.
This leads us to the answer of the main question of this paper: in order to solve the problem of climate refugees on the long term, more methods of adaptation and programmes to ameliorate the world's ecological state should be developed. Furthermore, it is even more important that Western countries must recognize their share in the problem. This would first and foremost require a more juridical approach. Western countries should create some sort of legal framework that forces states to face the consequences of their lifestyles and to help developing nations that have become victims because off their fuel driven economies.

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OrganisatieDe Haagse Hogeschool
AfdelingESC Hogere Europeses Beroepen Opleiding
Jaar2009
TypeBachelorscriptie
TaalEngels

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