Migration politics

Immigration and Climate Change

„Überleben ist nicht verhandelbar!“ Klimaflüchtlingscamp Hermann Josef Hack 28.10.2009 in Berlin; © Mike Auerbach - Oxfam“Survival is non-negotiable!” Hermann Josef Hack’s Refugee Camp in Berlin, October 28, 2009; © Mike Auerbach - OxfamThere are still no camps of climate refugees in Germany. But it might not be far off. Forced to flee their homes by storms, soil salination, erosion and droughts, they usually make it at most to the slums of a local big city. Yet from there not a few will leave for Europe in order to secure a livelihood and provide for their families.

A crowd of people at the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin. On October 28, 2009, there appeared overnight the makeshift dwellings of a “climate refugee camp”. The same picture in the centers of other European metropolises: on the London Millennium Bridge between the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, in the Plaza de España in Madrid, the Albertinaplein in Brussels and in Dublin. “Fair Climate Protection, Mrs. Merkel. Survival is non-negotiable” was emblazoned on a banner in front of the German chancellery the day before the EU meeting to vote on its policy at the UN World Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Behind this action is the relief organization Oxfam, which wants to draw attention to the plight of 26 million people who have already had to leave their homelands because climate change has destroyed the basis of their livelihoods.

Installation with a serious message

Hermann Josef Hack’s Refugee Camp in Berlin, October 28, 2009; © Mike Auerbach – OxfamYet by contrast to actual refugee camps in Asia and Africa, this camp is an installation by the artist Hermann Josef Hack. However droll the colorful miniature tents in shoebox format indefatigably touring European cities may appear, their message is anything but amusing: “It cannot be”, says Hack, “that Europe fends off people living on its borders like hostile intruders instead of combating the reason for their flight: the climate change that we have caused”.

While the EU has targeted only an additional annual financial need for 22 to 50 billion euros for climate protection and coping with harm caused by climate change in developing countries – of which the bulk must be raised by the latter – Oxfam calculates that a contribution on the part of the industrial countries of at least 40 to 70 billion euros would be realistic.

Fundamentally, emigration reflects the need of people to improve the basis of their existence, says the UNDP Human Development Report 2009, which was presented in Berlin on October 5. Beginning with pastoral nomads in search of grazing land and extending to the victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean or of Hurricane Katrina, environmental influences could be added as another cause.

Migrations prophesied

Hermann Josef Hack’s Refugee Camp in Berlin, October 28, 2009; © Mike Auerbach – OxfamWhen three years ago Nicholas Stern of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) prophesied “migrations on an unimagined scale”, many looked upon him as an alarmist. “In Darfur people have already set out on the way”, says the Stern Report. “Droughts have devastated the country, the battle over water has already led to serious conflicts. We have seen a rise in temperature of only 0.8 degrees. What will two full degrees then mean? Large parts of southern Europe will be turned into desert. Other areas will be flooded. Others again will be hit by violent storms with such frequency that they will become nearly uninhabitable. The consequence is that hundreds of millions of people will leave their homeland and seek a new one.”

Meanwhile, the development progresses. Not least because of man-made changes of regional as well as global climate, the world will lose, according to calculations by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, 150 million hectares of grazing and cropland. According to Oxfam calculations, by 2015, 375 million people will already have to suffer under the catastrophic consequences of global warming. The estimated number of climate refugees by 2050 varies from 200 million (according to the International Organization for Migration / IOM) to one billion.

New study proves climate flight

Hermann Josef Hack’s Refugee Camp in Berlin, October 28, 2009; © Mike Auerbach – OxfamThis is a development that, because of the clear terminological distinction between flight and emigration, sets even experts on international law before problems. Are these people environmental refugees, environmental emigrants or, possibly, future “climate emigrants”? “What might be called the ideal type of the environmental refugee may not be at all common, because there’s usually a mixture of motives for emigration”, says political scientist Manfred Wöhlcke. “As long as there’s a lack of sufficiently many and methodologically sound studies on environmental emigration, it can’t be precisely determined how often and what role ecological motives play in global migration. However, it seems likely that such motives are frequent and of very considerable significance”.

A study that was presented in Bonn on June 10, 2009, may shed light on the question. For the first time, it shows demonstrable effects of climate change on migration. The study was compiled by, among others, CARE International, the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS) and the International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) of Columbia University. Entitled “In Search of Shelter. Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement”, it is based in part on the Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios (EACH-FOR), a recently concluded research project sponsored by the European Commission. In addition to policy suggestions and analyses of the dangers and solutions, it contains maps that make obvious the connection between climate change and the spread of regional migrations. With a view to the World Climate Summit, the study was distributed in advance to the negotiating parties of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) as a basis for discussion.

Roland Detsch
The author is a freelance editor, journalist and writer living in Landshut and Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
Dezember 2009

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