Time to act on climate refugees

Alan Thornett and Terry Conway

In the last six years over 140 million people have been forced to move because of climate change disasters: droughts, harvest failures and devastating storms. The warming of our planet is driving long-term environmental damage and devastating catastrophes. The UN believes that the number of ‘environmental refugees’ could reach 300 million people by the middle of this century.

“Extreme weather events” are a threat across the planet: Hurricane Sandy inundating New York City. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people and destroying millions of jobs. Drought, water scarcity and agricultural crises in Somalia, Darfur, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. Wildfires raging through Fort McMurray, Canada. These are just few examples from recent years.

Climate change is devastating jobs and whole economies, and is a growing concern to trade unions for whom effective responses are now a fundamental issue of economic, employment and income security. Yet ‘environmental refugees’ have no legal status in international law and, as yet, no champions across civil society.

And all this is taking place in the context of a right wing backlash against all refugees and migrants – and the resurgence of climate change deniers in positions of power – most notably in the White House.

So the decision to organize a conference on climate refugees, originally proposed by the PCS, and now supported a number of unions and trade union activists, including the Campaign Against Climate Change and its Trade Union Committee could hardly be more timely.

‘Climate Refugees’ – The Climate Crisis and Population Displacement: Building a Trade Union and Civil Society Response is also supported by Friends of the Earth, trade unions and environmental, refugee and human rights campaigns. It will include expert briefings, and new evidence of the impact of climate change on human security. We aim to dispel myths about refugees, debate a possible new UN human rights framework for environmental refugees, and raise demands for stronger government leadership on this fundamental issue and debate a new campaign statement.

  • Contributions: from Prof Joanna Haigh (Grantham Institute at Imperial College), Asad Rehman (FoE), Clara Paillard (PCS), Amjad Abdulla (Alliance of Small Island States tbc), Dave Green (FBU), Sharan Burrow (ITUC, tbc), Wilf Sullivan (TUC), Zak Cochrane (Stand Up To Racism), NUT, PSI, Zita Holbourne (PCS), Jonathan Neale (Global Climate Jobs), Suzanne Jeffery (Campaign Against Climate Change), and more.4
  • Four workshops: on unions and campaigns for climate jobs; raising awareness of climate change impacts at national and global level; unions and campaign groups challenging xenophobia and hostility to refugees and migrants; and joint work to draft a new Protocol for the international protection of those affected by climate change.
  • Nominations: for the Climate Refugees Organising Group

Register now here.

Supporters so far: Campaign Against Climate Change, Friends of the Earth, FBU, TSSA, CWU, PCS, NUT, Stand Up to Racism and other unions and environmental campaigns.

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