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Stand With Climate Migrants

Writes Ciara Norman

This year’s STAND Student Festival ran from 12-24th October. An initiative of Suas Educational Development supported by Irish Aid, the festival boasted an impressive programme of events. The festival’s theme was Climate Migration and the issue was really brought to life through the wide variety of events on offer including workshops hosted by Fairtrade, movie screening, and art exhibitions. The UCC Works Award provides many volunteering experiences and as part of the programme, I am volunteering with STAND, something which has been a great opportunity, and a fun and educational experience.

About 2 billion people experienced food insecurity in 2019 and the numbers could be set to increase. Climate change is causing an increase in diseases that affect crops and as crop yields decrease many small farmers are being forced to migrate as they cannot survive on the income generated from a dramatically reduced harvest each year. And pathogens are on the move too, migrating around the world following favourable conditions.

Climate change causes an increase in pathogens and pests that infect plants in a number of ways and changing weather makes it harder to predict when and where pathogens will hit in time to introduce prompt preventative measures. Regulation of diseases by their natural enemies is also interfered with. Many crops are affected by this including bananas and coffee; and the most important calorie crops, rice, wheat, sugarcane, maize, soybean and potatoes. Between 30-40% of crops worldwide are lost to disease each year, a truly staggering statistic.

Tens of thousands of small farms across Central and South America became infected with coffee rust in the new millennium and this directly resulted in the internal migration of 2 million people between 2012 and 2017. However, this is only part of the picture. In 2017 alone, 68.5 million people were displaced worldwide and it is estimated that at least a third of them were climate migrants; displaced due to crop failure, rising sea levels, drought and extreme weather events. Today there are an estimated 258 million international migrants worldwide.

Where are all these people to go? Climate migrants are not covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention and are not recognised as refugees under international law. In the 2019 movie, ‘The Climate Limbo’, the powerful voice of Queen, a migrant from Nigeria brings home the message of what it is like to be ‘stuck in a limbo’, unable to build a life where she is from because of oil related environmental damage. Yet she is unable to build a new life somewhere else as she does not have refugee status.

And the problem is set to increase. As extreme weather events become more frequent, more and more people are being displaced from their homes. There will be an estimated 250 million to 1 billion climate migrants by 2050. Essam El-Hinnawi from the UN Environmental Programme first defined climate refugees in 1985. 35 years later and climate migrants are still ‘stuck in a limbo’. The world needs to wake up to the reality of climate change, accept that we are causing it through our actions and open our eyes to the devastating impact it already has had and will continue to have on millions of people worldwide. We need to open our hearts to climate migrants acknowledging that they deserve the same rights and protections as other people displaced from their homes. Climate migrants urgently need to be afforded refugee status.