Sunday, 13 February 2011

Do developed countries have a moral obligation to help those displaced by climate change?

An environmental migrant is someone who has been displaced by climate change induced environmental disasters. Technically they should not be classed as climate refugees, although this is how they are normally referred to, as they do not have the same rights as a refugee has and they are not fleeing from war or political instability. Although some people still argue that environmental migrants do not exist at present, changes to the environment in the future are likely to force people to move.  

Climate change is going to have different impacts on people across the global but one thing that is for sure is that it is going to affect all of us in some way or another. However it seems that those who are going to be affected most are actually in fact those that who consume the least amount of energy and who do not emitted large quantities of greenhouse gases. For example, sea levels are expected to rise as the higher average global temperatures cause the west and east Antarctic ice shelf and the Greenland ice dome to melt. It is estimated that if the Greenland ice dome or the West Antarctic ice shelf were to melt or break up they would each cause the sea levels worldwide to rise by 20ft. A slight rise in sea level would cause much of Bangladesh and India (especially Calcutta) to be lost to the sea. These two countries are amongst the most densely populated countries in the world and an estimated 60 million people would be displaced. The IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) predict that a rise in sea levels is likely to create a lot of environmental migrants – especially from small islands. The question is where are all of these people supposed to go and who should take responsibility of them? Should it be the government of that country or do countries in the developed world, who are the largest consumers and polluters, have a responsibility to take care of those who have been affected by the impacts our lifestyles are having on the environment?


This is quite a topical issue and it is unclear exactly what impacts climate change is going to have on migration. Some people think that people are likely to try and move to the developed countries in search of refuge whereas a recent study by the IIED suggests that people will stay within the same country but move to areas that are not as greatly affected by environmental change. The report also suggested that families living in areas of environmental decay would often choose to send one family member to a city to earn money to bolster rural incomes. Either way this is going to have huge impacts on the area and, in the future is likely to be a big problem as, although at present space for the world’s population is not an issue, as land is claimed by the sea and more of the environment becomes inhabitable, space for the increasing population to live may be hard to find.

The EJF (Environmental Justice Foundation) believe that this is going to be a huge problem in the future. I got these statistics off of their website http://www.ejfoundation.org/page231.htm
Right now
  • 12 million people live in poverty because of climate change
  • 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change
  • 250 million people are affected by desertification
  • 508 million people in water-stressed or water-scarce countries
  • 2.8 billion people live in areas of the world prone to more than one of the physical manifestations of climate change: floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise
In a decade
  • More than 400 million Africans could be living in extreme poverty.
By the end of the century
  • More than 100 million people could be affected by exacerbated storm surges
  • 200 million people may have been displaced by deteriorating environmental conditions
700-1500 million people could be affected by water shortages

These statistics suggest that the number of environmental refugees is going to be massive and that someone is going to have to help all of these people relocate. The IIED's report suggested that the richer nations have a moral obligation to help those displaced by environmental change but what do you think? Does the UK, as one of the most developed countries in the world, have a moral obligation to take responsibilty of some of the people who are likely to be displaced by environmental change or are they the responsibilty of the country from which they originate?

2 comments:

  1. What a great post, this will be very useful for both the Lower sixth with reference to population and the Upper sixth who are about to start climate change

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  2. I think that this is both an interesting and controversial topic but I am unsure as to where I stand. I discussed this with some friends and family, to try and help me develop an opinion, and they all seemed to have very differing opinions and so I was wondering what you felt about this issue......

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