Why Climate Migration Risks Matter to Wales
Climate change is decreasing the suitability of certain locations to support human habitation. Here are some of the reasons why Wales should care about climate related displacement, and what we can do to mitigate the effects.
How will climate change impact upon human survival?
Humans as a species can be resourceful and adaptive. Our ability to utilise technology and co-operate has enabled us to populate some of the harshest climates across the globe. However, we are all subject to physical thresholds in terms of temperature, and we require access to food, water, and clean air to survive. Climate change threatens the sustainability of these vital resources and has the potential to raise temperatures beyond suitable levels in certain countries or regions.
Areas around the equator are particularly at risk from higher temperatures. Cities may experience increased temperatures more rapidly than rural areas due to the urban heat island effect. In the summer of 2003, 70,000 deaths were attributed to extreme heat across Europe.
Globally increased temperatures also have potential knock-on effects of rising sea levels, which threaten many island nations such as in Indonesia, the Caribbean, and even parts of the UK. Numerous maps have been produced to indicate which regions are most vulnerable to changes in climatic and vegetation stability, food security, and sea level rise.
Whilst it is difficult to attribute singular extreme weather events to climatic shifts, there are growing trends of increased severity of hurricanes, changing patterns of wet seasons, and prevalence of wild fires. Our oceans are also showing signs of changing with several severe coral bleaching incidents, shifting ocean currents, and migration of marine species.
Anecdotally, farmers in parts of Africa and Asia are already reporting bad harvests due to erratic rainfall; including delayed rainy seasons followed by intense rain or below average rain. This can result in crop failure, soil degradation, and livestock deaths.
More intense or less predictable monsoons can also directly threaten human life; 1,200 people are reported to have died and 40 million affected across India, Bangladesh and Nepal in the 2017 monsoon season.
What impacts will a changing climate have on migration?
If people cannot grow food because their fields are flooded, or cannot access safe water because reservoirs are dry, or cannot rebuild their village because it is underwater, then they will be forced to move.
Globally, one in every seven people is a migrant and since 2008, an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather related disasters annually.Lack of sustainable resources regionally can lead to internal migration, and as more larger areas become uninhabitable this will cause further external migration.
Competition over resources can lead to conflict; academics have started to document what are referred to as the ‘water wars’. The conflict in Syria and consequential exodus for instance has been linked to water scarcity as a partial catalyst in the civil war. There are many other examples of countries across the world with water related tensions or conflicts, including Somalia, Bolivia, and Egypt. War amplifies the scale and longevity of displacement due to obvious threats to human life and by further damaging natural resources.
There are predictions of increasing geopolitical tensions as natural resources become scarcer from climate change related impacts, which may cause further displacement and conflict. This video from The Climate and Migration Coalition explains the links between armed conflict and climate change.
Why should we care in Wales?
Firstly, there are obvious humanitarian reasons to care about people being forced out of their homes and placed into potentially dangerous or arduous situations. Forced displacement leaves people vulnerable to disease, hunger, and human trafficking. Leaving possessions and communities behind means refugees may have low economic and social resilience. There are also wider impacts upon humanity from the loss of potential contributions from people forced into survival situations.
Around 2015, images started to be released of North African refugees drowning in the crossing to Europe. This information shocked people and led to some calls for more aid and asylum, but despite this at least 8,500 people have drowned crossing the Mediterranean between 2015-2017. The continuation of ‘business as usual’ responses to environmental and social disasters will increase the risk of future humanitarian crises in the face of climate change.
Whilst it is less likely that people within the UK will have to migrate elsewhere due to climate change, we maintain 14 overseas territories across the world. Many of these will face, either directly or indirectly, significant impacts due to climatic shifts such as rising sea levels and increased temperatures.
For example, hurricane Irma in 2017 brought devastating losses to Caribbean territories; 1.2 million people in these areas have been affected, many of whom remain without homes, infrastructure or economic stability. Many people from islands like Puerto Rico have migrated to the US due to the damage from Irma and other hurricanes. At the time, the UK sent 40 tonnes of aid, around 1,250 military personnel and pledged £57 million to relief efforts, but it is uncertain whether longer-term support will be made available for the islands to recover. With the UK focussed on other issues like Brexit, and cutting overseas territories climate change mitigation funds, we may need to prepare for further spending on disaster relief and direct or indirect migration from these areas.
Without adequate infrastructure and investment in sectors like health, education and housing, any additional increase in UK population is likely to exacerbate strains on public services and resources. Migrants may also have little control over where they are resettled and ‘may have to deal with inadequate compensation and services and changes in livelihoods, in addition to disruption to socio-cultural structures, and the loss of cultural ties and identity and connection to the land’.
What is Wales doing about it?
Mitigating the risks of climate change is one of the most important ways of reducing international displacement. The UK has signed up to the Paris Agreement which requires greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets with five year reviews. This commitment builds upon the targets set out in the UK Climate Change Act 2008. In Wales we also have statutory carbon targets under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, ‘including at least an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050’.
The UK also provides international aid and development support to countries vulnerable to climate change risks. ‘Almost 8% of UK foreign aid is spent on climate change-related projects’. The UK provides support through embedding the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which includes climate action. Wales has embedded the SDGs within the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
Whilst the UK hosts about 166,843 refugees and asylum seekers, climate refugees here and in other countries do not always receive the same rights as refugees fleeing conflict. Part of the issue is that it is difficult to definitively label ‘climate refugees’ as people may be displaced due to numerous interconnected reasons. Whilst ‘refugees’ are given asylum status under international law, people fleeing due to poverty or climate related reasons are classed as ‘migrants’ and are not granted the same protections. However, there have been some success stories of communities embracing refugees; read about their stories here and here.
What can you do to help?
Get informed about climate change and how you can reduce your own impacts. You can start by becoming ‘Carbon Literate’ and reading our resources on ‘Tackling Climate Change’. There are also multiple resources on climate migration available from The Climate and Migration Coalition.
If you are part of a community organisation in Wales you may wish to consider applying for the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa grants. These grants provide support for projects in Wales and Africa under the themes of climate change and the environment, health, sustainable livelihoods, and lifelong learning. Previous recipients have included the ‘Mbale Trees’ project, run by Size of Wales, which has planted trees in Wales and Africa; providing benefits such as storing carbon, reducing water risks, and increasing local skills and knowledge about sustainable natural resource management.
You can also support organisations supporting refugees and migrants or working to reduce climate change risks; such as WWF Cymru and Climate Change Consortium of Wales. One way you can show support is by joining this petition to ask the UK government to step up greenhouse gas emissions targets.