Recognizing Climate Refugees
First, all EU countries should share the burden, apportioning refugees across all member states.
Second, the US, Canada, Australia and other OECD members must also carry their fair share, which they are not: The US accepted 36 Syrian refugees in 2013, out of a total of some 3 million.
Third, recognizing that a basic principle of international law is an obligation to accept refugees – the law should be updated to accommodate climate change. It is ridiculous that it doesn’t already, given that climate change is a key factor in migration and in amplifying and worsening conflicts.
We are in the midst of a horrific negative spiral, where climate change makes conflicts uglier and new ones erupt over natural resources. Then violent conflicts amplify the impacts of climate change by degrading infrastructure, decreasing the capacity of governments to function and harming natural resources and employment opportunities. This in turn increases the likelihoods of more conflicts driven by climate change, and so on.
The current 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as a person who “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”
And so it excludes sea level rise, sinking or disappearing island states, droughts, water stresses and desertification, to name but a few examples. This should be revisited with urgency with the objective of
clarifying the legal status of climate migrants as refugees.
We must stop focusing on symptoms and implement comprehensive approaches that address the causes behind Europe’s boat people tragedy.