Climate refugees: No one left behind in the Green Deal?

During the Brussels event “EU Green Deal and NECPs” (National Energy and Climate Plans) organized by Carbon Market Watch, the central question was whether Europe is on the right path to becoming the first climate-neutral continent. In his opening speech, Diederik Samson, chief of cabinet for European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, spoke about the aspects of the Green Deal that stand out to him. He highlighted the Green Deal’s ambition (Europe carbon-neutral by 2050), comprehensiveness (it does not solely focus on climate) and justice (make the change in a fair and just manner). Samson compared the implementation of the deal with dancing the tango; various people and organisations on various levels in Europe need to ‘dance’ together to achieve the 2050 goal of a climate-neutral continent. However, at the conference it was noted that not all people nor all continents are invited to join this dance. While the deal pays attention to a “just transition” within Europe, it seems to be missing a concrete plan to help other continents to make the transition to carbon neutrality and neglects the people that are already affected by climate change.

Climate refugees
In a motion for a resolution, the European Parliament highlights “the lack of a universal definition of ‘climate refugees’ [in the Green Deal]” and further urges the EU to “promote and assist the local and regional support operations that receive refugees affected by climate change.” While the Green Deal is timely and ambitious, it barely addresses the large effect the crisis has on people across the earth. António Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) explains: “When an unstable climate collides with persistent inequality, weak governance, ongoing fragility, and sharp demographic change, the result is a maelstrom of drivers that lead to increased internal, regional and international movements as individuals scramble for safety and the legitimate prospect of a future.”

Floods in Sudan, droughts in Somalia, locust swarms destroying crops; the UN estimates that there will be between 25 million and 1 billion people displaced in 2050 due to the climate crisis. Yet, the current definition of ‘refugee’ does not cover persons that are displaced due to the climate crisis. Recently, the United Nations’s Human Rights Committee looked into a case from a man from the Pacific nation of Kiribati who applied for asylum in New Zealand in 2013. The man was worried about the rising sea level and spoke about lack of freshwater and the difficulty of growing food due to the changing climate. While New Zealand denied him asylum, the UN Committee ruled that “[i]t is unlawful for governments to return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by the climate crisis”.

Green migration policies
The International organization for Migration (IOM) advises the European Council to integrate migration into climate policies. IOM recommends EU Member States to “undertake capacity building initiatives for improved cross-sector policy coherence so that progress in one area does not undermine progress in another”. According to IOM, migration should be integrated into the measures of the Green Deal. The Deal should support interventions that “avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change; (ii) aid and protect such displaced populations; and (iii) create enabling conditions for migration and its consequences to support climate action in both partner countries and Europe.”

Climate change policies could be even more ambitious, comprehensive and fair if it would integrate migration. In that manner, no one would be left behind, or in Samsons words; no one would be dancing alone.