Running from Climate

Running from Climate

Among many who migrate to Europe in search of a secure and peaceful life, there are those who are forced from their countries by climate. One such refugee, who did not feel safe in his home country due to the ever-changing climate, is Fawad Durrani. Two years ago he left his home in Afghanistan to settle in Germany and is today an expert in climate change working at Greenpeace.

Durrani says he felt insecure back home. “I was not feeling safe in my country; that’s why I chose to migrate”, he explained. Durrani’s country of Afghanistan is warm and dry. Since 1960, the frequency of hot days and nights in Afghanistan has increased each season, while the frequency of cold days and nights has decreased.

Annual rainfall is also significantly less than the average annual rainfall compared to the rest of the world. Most of the country in the southern, southwestern, western and north consists of large desert plains. The average annual temperature in Afghanistan is projected by a World Bank study to increase between 1.4 °C and 4.0 °C by the 2060s and between 2.0 °C and 6.2 °C by the 2090s.

Climate change impacts are huge in Afghanistan. and they are a major reason why many of his compatriots chose to emigrate, Durrani believes.

The government of Afghanistan is not doing much for the people affected by climate, Durrani said. Climate change impacts are considered natural disasters, therefore their victims are not provided with alternative housing and adequate support. Such support should be included into regulation plans and development strategies in Afghanistan, Durrani believes.

Just like Durrani, many around the world migrate from their countries for climate-related reasons. According to a Greenpeace study presented at the Global Solidarity Summit before the G20 in Hamburg in July, 2017, the risk for humans to be displaced due to sudden natural disasters is 60 percent higher today than it was forty years ago. An average of 25.4 million people are displaced every year as a consequence of natural disasters, the study asserts.

There have been 157 million people displaced by climate-related disasters over the last seven years, according to Greenpeace.  Disaster displacement per each region can be broken down as thus: East Asia / Pacific: 30%; South America / Caribbean: 27%; South Asia: 21%; Southern Africa: 11%; North America: 7%. Also it should be noted that 69 percent of those displaced come from the world’s poorest countries, and 14.7 million were displaced by climate-related disasters alone just last year.

During a presentation that Durrani made at the alternative summit of G20, he remarked on his recommendation for his government back home: Measures to deal with climatic hazards and displacement should be included in existing laws, policies and frameworks on both a national and international level. And related issues which also warrant attention include:

  • International support for addressing the causes of displacement and migration
  • National Climate Change Strategy
  • Water Management and Irrigation System
  • Strengthening resilience of communities to climate change impacts
  • Raising awareness
  • Proper relocation plans for IDPs
  • Early Warning Systems and Disaster Risk Reduction Programs.

He thinks these recommendations will be helpful for people who are easily affected by climate change.

Today, the world is seeing more frequent and a higher number of devastating natural disasters as the effects of climate change intensify. This includes both rapid-onset disasters, such as hurricanes, and slow-onset disasters such as long-term droughts and famines. Climate change contributes to the increase in extreme weather events and weather-related natural disasters as well as to the increasing number of people who are forced to flee their homes, lose their livelihood, and have to migrate to other places. According to a NASA report, the risk of climate change gas been raised by technological and industrial development, and carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in 650,000 years.

Greenpeace: climate change and environmental degradation are already strong drivers of migration.

According to Greenpeace’s report, climate change and environmental degradation are already much stronger drivers of migration flows than many of us may be aware of. Durrani, a refugee himself, says many around the world simply don’t know how to escape from their country’s climate change problems. Abimbola Odughesan, a refugee from Nigeria and a teacher of Social Studies and English language thinks this as well. “Nigerians couldn’t know that it is the change in climate that made them escape from the country”, he explained. One of the most important problems is the lack of awareness among locals. Unfortunately, this is an issue all over the world as people don’t know the main reasons for climate change; therefore, they do not take action to make it safer, Odughesan believes.

Syrian refugees protest at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015.

While climate refugee numbers are rising, there is no formal record for this. Someone like Durrani who comes to Germany and obtains refugee status would not be officially registered as a refugee due to climate change. It’s necessary to establish legal ways for those who are damaged by climate change to immigrate to Europe, Greenpeace climate change and energy expert Karsten Schmidt commented.

Anyone who has left their habitual place of residence only because of environmental or climatic changes does not belong to the group of people legally defined as refugees in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1951 Refugee Convention. The convention defines a refugee as a person who is escaping war and conflict or who is persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a particular social group or political convictions; the term therefore does not apply to those affected by climate. Moreover, this term creates the impression that environmental reasons (push factors) for migration can be clearly separated from other reasons (factors) that contribute or bring about natural disasters and environmental degradation, Greenpeace pointed out.

It is a huge issue that people whose lives are damaged by climate change can’t take refugee status and therefore can not immigrate legally to other countries. Climate change migration is the only solution for a lot of people, Schmidt claims. “We must help people when they are migrating in search of a new home – they need global social rights, social assistance and basic to survive because at the moment it’s horrible to see daily pictures of people dying the Mediterranean sea”, stated Schmidt.