The climate crisis is global; it does not require a passport to travel from one place to another. Glacier melt in the Arctic zone fuels a massive climate displacement crisis at coastal belts, forcing vulnerable communities to flee.
The wildfire of 2017 in Portugal darkened the skies of the entire Europe. Every year, China’s high air pollution levels leave neighbouring countries under smog and toxic air. We are now seeing new evidence of how climate change affects our lives in the form of rising sea levels, chronic droughts, intense wildfires, and record-breaking storms — all of which contribute to the collapse of communities. To tackle ecological disruption, countries must collaborate in coordinated forums for a robust global response. Exposed global crack lines require such a response. International conferences, historical agreements and fancy photo-ops are simply not enough.
The annual UN climate summit held in Egypt last December was a success — with the creation of the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ facility that allows developing countries to receive financial aid from developed countries to address the loss and damage experienced as a result of a fast-changing climate. But the hopes and promises of the summit are fast fading.
Developed countries, mainly responsible for the rise of greenhouse gases, are struggling to raise large and steady streams of capital needed to shut down fossil fuel plants, and establish a fund for the loss and damage suffered by poor countries.
After multiple dialogues among policy leaders, COP27 formulated a transitional committee under the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’. The committee has administrative powers to recommend funding arrangements for countries that suffer most due to climate-induced disasters in terms of loss and damage.
This year’s COP28 is set to take place in Dubai — where the transitional committee will operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund structure. Developing countries, struck most by accelerated climate change, must advocate for the smooth and transparent functioning of this committee.
Many historic climate change agreements also require a major push. The Paris Agreement of 2015 has been a cornerstone document in humanity’s fight against the ongoing climate crisis. The agreement has focused on reducing global carbon emissions with a collective effort by all UN members. However, nothing in this milestone agreement addresses the key question of which countries would be accepting climate refugees as climate-induced displacement is inevitable.
The anti-refugee narrative in the US, Europe and Australia has put this crucial debate far away from the spotlight. Unlike refugees facing war, climate refugees flee climate-induced disasters such as rising sea levels or flash floods, making it an unprecedented legal issue.
What is concerning is that, in the initial draft of the Paris Agreement, a clause highlighting the need for the climate change coordination facility wing was proposed. However, it was silently removed from the final document, largely due to rejection by Australia as the country remains one of the biggest greenhouse gases emitters on the per capita basis. The proposal could not find adequate public discussion and attention in the final agreement of COP21, owing to its focus on other complex discussions hinging on limiting GHG emissions and preventing disastrous consequences of anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
Developing countries, advocating most for the loss and damage facility launched by COP27 under Pakistan’s leadership, must collaborate with UN organizations to help marginalized communities living in climate hotspots. The UNHCR’s Refugee Environmental Protection Fund (REP Fund) aims to create a sustainable financing mechanism for refugees living in climate hotspots, giving emphasis on meaningful reforestation and clean food initiatives.
With corruption and mismanagement being a norm in South Asian countries, the REP fund will have more chances of transparency, as stakeholders from different sectors will have the autonomy to scrutinize the whole process. It is important to point out that the fund’s eco-friendly initiatives would also create green jobs for climate refugees and host communities who have been living in vulnerable climate hotspots for decades.
To provide legal protection to climate-displaced persons, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 must be amended in true letter and spirit. Article 1(a) of the Refugee Convention must be revised to cover ‘refugees from natural disasters’, in light of the global climate crisis. Chronic droughts in Africa, flash floods in South Asia, and wildfires in the Amazon, all highlight the fact that the climate crisis will quadruple the number of climate refugees in the near future. As long as the world community provides legal protection to vulnerable, displaced people, countries will be able to manage the strain unleashed by ecological disruption.
No challenge poses a greater threat to our planet and our future generations than accelerated climate change. No country alone is well-equipped to lead the world towards a solution. But the crisis also opens a new window for opportunity for countries under constant daggers drawn to sit on the same table, forging a truly global framework to fight climate change.
The writer is a lecturer in foreign policy.
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