Clicky
Modal close

Dear Democracy Now! visitor,

You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. Democracy Now! is different because we don't accept government or advertising dollars—we count on you, our global audience, to fund our work.Right now, all donations to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous donor. Pretty amazing, right? It just takes a few minutes to make sure Democracy Now! is there for you and everyone else in 2018.

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.

Donate

Migration Expert Urges Immediate Action as Millions Are Already Displaced by Climate Change

StoryNovember 16, 2017
Watch iconWatch Full Show
Listen
Media Options
Listen

Researchers here at Bonn warn Pacific Islanders may be among the first to be forced to migrate due to climate change, as sea level rise threatens to make whole islands uninhabitable. But island nations are not the only places where climate change is threatening to force people from their homes. Last year, around the world, at least 23 million people were displaced by extreme weather. “If we act now in terms of climate change action, … it means we support for people to stay in their homes. … Let’s not make migration a last resort, a tragedy,” says Dina Ionesco, the head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organization for Migration.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit in Bonn.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This year is known as the first “Islands COP,” with Fiji presiding over this year’s summit. The event itself is being held here in Bonn because of the logistical challenges of hosting thousands of people in Fiji at the start of the South Pacific cyclone season. Researchers here at Bonn are warning that Pacific Islanders may be among the first to be forced to migrate due to climate change, as sea level rise is threatening to make whole islands uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Wednesday, we got a chance to speak with Pacific Islanders who rolled out a red carpet to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel here at the COP23. The massive banner that went along the floor to the plenary read “Keep it in the ground.” Among those who rolled it out were Pacific warriors Joseph-Zane Sikulu of Tonga and Lusia Feagaiga, a delegate from [Samoa]. I asked them how climate change is affecting their islands.

LUSIA FEAGAIGA: With the sea levels rising, a lot of our lower-lying atoll countries are being affected. I mean, Marshall Islands is two meters above sea level; Tuvalu, probably three. And once king tides come in, it’s most likely that their villages will be flooded with saltwater because of the rising sea levels. Even in Samoa, places where families, their ancestral homes used to be on the shore, now have to be moved further inland because of the rising sea level. So, it’s affecting way of life. It’s affecting crops and indigenous root crops, because of saltwater intrusion, as well as fresh drinking supplies, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: But island nations are not the only places where climate change is threatening to force people from their homes. Last year, around the world, at least 23 million people were displaced by extreme weather.

For more, we’re joined by Dina Ionesco, the head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organization for Migration.

So you just heard people from Tonga and [Samoa]. What do they face? What is a climate change migrant or climate change refugee?

DINA IONESCO: Well, climate change migration means that the impacts of climate change affect so much the lives of people that they can’t stay in their homes. And very often also, climate change connects to other issues—poverty, for instance, or demographic issues or conflict. And it makes it even more difficult for people to remain. So, climate migration means that people have to move, but also sometimes choose to move, because their environment is degrading. And it can mean, as you said, sudden onset, big storms, floods. There, it’s easier to count who moved because of those causes. But it means also the slow onset, like desertification, sea level rise, land loss. So it’s very complex, many different issues. But the bottom line is that we maybe do not want these people to be forced to move because of climate change. So, this was why we are here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, a few years ago, a man from the island of Kiribati sparked a global debate because he became the first person ever to seek asylum, for him and his family, as climate refugees. So could you tell us about his case and what’s happened with people seeking asylum for climate-related issues?

DINA IONESCO: So, we have to realize that the majority of people who move because of climate change, they move internally. They move within borders. So that means they are under the responsibility of their own states. They are not seeking a climate refugee status, because their own state has to take care of them and respect their human rights. There are some cases—we had the case for these small islands or for Haiti after the earthquake—where people move to across borders, maybe to Brazil or to the U.S. or just across within the same island. And then there’s the question: What right do they have to move, to stay? And there, there are also possibilities to give them a humanitarian visa or a temporary protection that can allow them to stay. You can’t be a refugee for the moment. Maybe it will be, but we don’t know that. It’s very difficult to create a status as a refugee for climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 45 seconds, then we’re going to do Part 2 and post it online. But what do you think it’s most important for the world to know right now about what the world is doing about climate migrants?

DINA IONESCO: I think one key thing to realize is that if we act now in terms of climate change action, if we take care of the Earth now, it means we support for people to stay in their homes, that they are not forced to migrate. So that’s one key message we have to say. Invest in climate action. It gives people a choice whether to go. They have the right to move if they want to move, but let’s not make migration a last resort, a tragedy, when it’s too late, when there’s nothing else.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dina Ionesco, we thank you so much. We’re going to do Part 2 and post it online as a web exclusive at democracynow.org. Head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organization for Migration.

I’ll be speaking in Berlin on Saturday night at 7:30 at the Festsaal Kreuzberg. Check our website.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

Migration Advocate Calls on Delegates at COP23 to Address Climate Change Displacement

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.

Make a donation
Up arrowTop