Fate of climate refugees cannot hang in balance

The Daily New Age, 06 January 2009

The call to open negotiations for industrialised countries of the north to accept up to 30 million climate change migrants from Bangladesh is one that may defy plausibility in the world we live in today, and yet may become a compelling reality as we approach the year 2050. A renewed call for a solution to the rising problem of climate refugees in Bangladesh, and across the world, came at a meeting organised by the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan held in Dhaka on Friday, as reported in Saturday’s New Age.
   The rationale is largely inscrutable. Man-made climate change is now established as the direct result of the actions of the industrialised North’s reckless use of the earth’s natural resources, coupled with the use of fossil fuels that resulted in the emissions of greenhouse gases. As a result of this, the polar ice caps are melting and the world is gradually warming, causing sea levels to rise and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events across the world. In the past decade Bangladesh has encountered floods and cyclones of high intensity at more frequent intervals than ever before, largely thought to be as a result of changing weather patterns and rising sea surface temperatures. But most countries of the world are affected in a plethora of detrimental ways. The Maldives are under threat of being submerged by the end of the century, Mauritania faces a gradual desertification and back-to-back food shortages, and even prosperous Switzerland is losing tourism revenue — a large component of its national earnings — because of receding glaciers and a shrinking skiing industry.
   Now, in order to stop GHG emissions, and gradually reverse the cycle of damage, climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is seeking regulations under which underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh must also shift away from non-renewable, and often cheap, sources of energy. We agree that the world must act as one in order to avert the looming environmental disaster, but for the slower development trajectory that Bangladesh will opt for — at great cost — those who achieved their development through the destructive means must pay compensation. Also relevant is the fact that it is only a handful of countries whose prosperity has come at the cost of colossal damage to the earth’s eco-system and they must compensate those who are encountering the fallout of this damage.
   In Bangladesh, river erosion — as a result of intensifying rains and floods — claims up to 60,000 hectares of land every year. With sea levels rising, the numbers of climate refugees will gradually grow imposing a huge economic and social burden on the limited resources of an already strained country. The United Nations must therefore take it upon itself to open negotiations on the future fate of climate migrants, keeping in mind that some progressive nations such as Australia have already agreed to accept migrants from their outlying island nations. Most of all, this is a political issue, not a scientific or academic one, and we emphasise the need for a movement to bring this issue to the mainstream.


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