Over the past year, we’ve all seen the devastating images across America—and around the world—of people who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, to wildfires, hurricanes, or monsoon floods.
While many of them can rebuild, others aren’t, and are forced to pick-up, and leave.
They are the faces and stories of climate migration. An estimated 1.2 billion people will be displaced by climate-related events by 2050. That means that in less than 30 years, more than 1 out of every 8 people will have lost their homes.
Take a minute, and let that sink in.
The world is moving quickly, and with it, people are moving too. While mobility may be increasing worldwide, the sad truth is that the majority of migrants today find themselves fleeing because they have to, whether it’s due to violence, persecution, famine, poverty, or increasingly, climate catastrophes. When we say climate catastrophes, we don’t just mean sporadic natural disasters. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, flooding, and droughts, as well as causing slower onset disasters like desertification and rising sea levels.
In fact, since 2008, environmental disasters have displaced about three times more people than violence and armed conflict. And yet, here in the U.S. and worldwide, there remains a vast legal protection gap between the level of safeguards afforded to people seeking safety from violence and persecution and those seeking safety from climate-related disasters.
In part, this is because climate change often exacerbates other push factors like poverty and might not be identified as the sole reason for displacement. There are also almost no multilateral treaties or domestic laws addressing climate displacement, meaning that people forced to leave their homes for climate-related reasons have limited legal options to obtain safe refuge elsewhere.
There are, however, concrete steps we can take to address this issue—advocates have called for a new policy architecture for climate migration that would provide those displaced by climate events with legal pathways to resettle somewhere safe.
As of today, though, there is no national or international consensus sufficient enough to bring about action on this front. This must change and change fast. The U.S. today is welcoming migrants, many of them refugees, from nearly every nation in the world—yet even in this affluent nation, there are climate migrants both at home and abroad needing our support, whose voices still go unheard.
Residents in coastal states from Texas to Florida face an annual threat that their homes, their businesses, and their very livelihoods may be swept away by hurricanes and tornadoes. These disasters, exacerbated by climate change, can hurt homeowners but may also create even bigger problems for renters and the unhoused, those who may lack insurance to cover any repairs or replacement of their dwelling places.
Droughts in turn also bring heat waves that often result in forest fires as dry timber burns, forcing thousands to relocate permanently. Ultimately, the failure to recognize migration as a vital climate adaptation strategy would ensure a disaster of epic proportions, even from within the United States’ borders.
The Joseph Family Foundation has, since its inception, been rooted in authenticity, compassion, optimism, and morality; part and parcel of the hands-on aid that we bring to vulnerable communities across the country, and the world. As part of our mission to bring about positive change, we are seeking to raise awareness about forced migration due to climate change. By supporting the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)’s Climate Displacement Program, we hope to lend momentum to IRAP’s efforts to create a legal framework for climate-displaced families around the world.
By defining the challenges of our own 21st century and identifying climate change as the leading driver of displacement worldwide, we can take positive steps to address this issue.
To that end, we are hosting our first “Betting Against Climate Displacement” casino night in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 27 and invite others to join in our work. By shifting perceptions and advocating for a legal framework for those displaced by climate events, we hope to set an example for others to follow.
Together, we can create lasting change.
Sophie Joseph is president of The Joseph Family Foundation.
Lucy Solomon is director of The Joseph Family Foundation.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.
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