Every day, people living on the frontlines of climate chaos witness the worsening consequences of the climate crisis: Crops failing due to extreme drought, food shortages, devastating storms, floods and fires engulfing towns and villages, and heatwaves. Many of us around the world are facing an uncertain future, especially those of us who are poor, people of color, women, migrants, and Indigenous peoples. 

What do we mean by climate linked mobility?

Anyone that has had to move because of a climatic event. It’s important to note here that there are different types of climate linked mobility: typically called sudden or slow onset events.

Sudden events are the types of things we are witnessing with increased intensity- hurricanes, typhoons and floods for example. They cause people to become displaced very quickly, but often within internal borders and temporarily.

Slow onset events are much harder to quantify, a drought can lead to loss of livelihood that leads to resource scarcity, that fuels existing tensions, leading to conflict and displacement. Migration patterns tend to be external and permanent.

How does climate change affect refugees?

Humans have always migrated for multiple reasons, the climate crisis is yet another reason why people might choose to leave their homes. However across the globe political instability and climate chaos means that their are more people are on the move. The world saw over 30 million new displacements due to floods, storms or wildfires in 2020. Climate disasters also ‘caused more internal displacement than war’ last year as well, according to Norwegian Refugee Council’s IDMC report.

Yet, despite the reality of our heating world and the evidence indicating that the climate crisis will lead to the displacement of peoples, the situation at our borders is one of increasing militarisation that is designed to deter, deport and detain people. Across the globe we are witnessing the growth of the border industrial complex with companies such as G4S, Accenture, Serco, Mitie, British Airways cashing in on the growing business and profiting from the expansion of the climate crisis 

Talking about climate migration

Crisis narratives, if not framed in the right way, can have dangerous implications for how migration as a result of the climate crisis is talked about. There are some great resources out there to dive into this more. 350.org UK developed this climate justice framing project which has some really useful pointers. Standing up 4 migrants has a great tool kit with a seven-step guide to rethink and change how we speak about migration. 350.org was also part of developing this briefing on dangerous narratives and climate migration  where we explore how some of the language that the climate movement uses can actually do more harm than good; here are some of the key findings from those resources.

Numbers: Current narratives around climate and migration, often deployed by the global north climate movement and security think tanks, are feeding into the populist right-wing agenda and are potentially more detrimental than useful in supporting people that have been forcibly displaced.

Inadvertently frames that use crisis language like ‘mass migration’, ‘unprecedented migration’, ‘waves of migration’ feed into this perceived  ‘fear factor’ or ‘threat narrative’ and are being used to justify treating those that have been forcibly displaced by a rapidly warming world with walls, bullets, drones, cops, and cages.”  (Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security’ by Todd Miller).  And they are being picked up by the far-right, the rise of eco-fascism is being tracked across the globe as the far right lean into ovr population and localism narratives, 

There is no conclusive figure of how many people will need to move, no consensual estimate exists, let alone a commonly agreed methodology. As a result, predictions and estimates have become one of the most contentious issues in the debates on climate migration. Depending on the study, numbers oscillate wildly from 50 million to 1 billion by 2050. So we need to frame migration as part of the solution and a form of adaptation to climate change

The future will hold many challenges, of which this is one. Human populations have always been in flux. The challenge (as with other impacts of climate change) is to manage this through forward planning and building resilience. This means proactively creating safe pathways for those whose homes are affected to ensure a world in which all humans can live with dignity. Many impacts of climate change are now unavoidable – but the harm they cause is not inevitable if urgent and effective adaptation is put into place, supported by solidarity between citizens of different nations, who all face a shared challenge.

Telling stories. Migration because of the climate crisis sounds for many like an abstract concept, and so we need to make it real. By telling stories and listening to people forced to move and people in communities that welcome them, we can counter harmful stereotypes and emphasize our common humanity.  Some of the others lessons we have learnt when talkig about climate justice are to give it context – like giving names to the nations people come from and the places or communities we are talking about, 

Climate justice is migrant justice: As climate impacts continue to get stronger, we know that we must work together to create a just world that respects and supports the right for communities to migrate and live free from violence, and poverty. Tackling the climate crisis is about much more than emissions and scientific metrics- it’s about fighting for a just and sustainable world that works for all of us.  Those who have had least to do with creating the climate crisis, are also those that are the most impacted.  

As a global movement working to stop the climate crisis, there can be no climate justice without ensuring human rights for all marginalized communities. 

The climate movement must work with the migrant justice movement to ensure safety for those seeking protection with equity, dignity and humanity at the core of its principles. A future of walls, cages, bullets and surveillance is not what we are fighting for. 

350.org is in the process of reaching out to other organisations to explore how we can work at the climate migration nexus, we would love to hear your thoughts as well. For now here is a list of projects and resources that we are using and some past articles. If you are interested in finding out more and joining our work please reach out to kim,[email protected]

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