With environmental disasters produced or made worse by climate change driving millions of people per year from their homes, amping up a global refugee crisis that is already the worst since the Second World War, the United States is cutting its annual refugee quota to the lowest level since the program began in 1980.
“The increasingly extreme weather patterns have destroyed food and water supplies, left communities destitute, strained national and international aid resources, and fomented political instability in fragile societies in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America,” the Los Angeles Times reports, citing international development experts. The world now has an estimated 65 million refugees, and environmental migrants are not recognized in that category under international law.
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“Climate change is the force multiplier for chronic social and environmental problems,” said Tim Ash Vie of the Climate Group.
“Weather is changing more quickly than we expected, and it will accelerate,” agreed Alice Thomas, head of the climate displacement program at Refugees International. “More and more, climate change will become the primary driver for distress migration. It undermines sustained development and the livelihoods so many have relied on for centuries or longer.”
Yet the Trump administration moved last week to reduce the number of vetted refugees it accepts each year to 30,000.
Although a warming atmosphere has brought new fishing and shipping routes in northern oceans and improved crop yields in some regions, “hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific have steadily worsened, causing devastation from North Carolina to China,” the Times notes. “In the developing world, so-called climate refugees are often swept into the ranks of economic migrants by unwelcoming, overtaxed governments—as happened with thousands of sub-Saharan and central African men and women who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach southern Europe.”
U.S. Institute of Peace President Nancy Lindborg said climate change “has become a nasty cocktail,” driving migration that can in turn be a trigger for violence and instability. “In Africa, herders and farmers are fighting as Lake Chad evaporates, while drought has nearly wiped out Zimbabwe’s staple crop, maize,” the Times writes. “In India, rains flooded Kerala state at record levels, while rising seas are nipping away at low-lying islands in the central Pacific.”
The Syrian civil war is also a widely-cited example of climate-fueled conflict.
With that in mind, the United Nations agreed in 2016 to provide protection, access to schooling, and other opportunities for climate refugees, and countries are on track to ratify the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December. “Only one country has dropped out of the process so far—the U.S. under Trump,” the Times notes. “Hungary, where a right-wing backlash against immigrants is surging, has indicated it will also withdraw.”
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