Thousands of Americans this year have been forced to flee the local areas and communities they once called home due to extreme weather events. Many had to evacuate Southern California this fall when wildfires struck; before that, residents of Texas and Florida had to leave home in the wake of major hurricanes.
According to The Conversation, such events raise a major question: What will America, and the rest of the world, do about such climate refugees?
Gulrez Shah Azhar, a Ph.D. candidate at Pardee RAND Graduate School, recently made the argument that countries that have the means should be doing more to protect them. He pointed to climate-forced migration as a trend that’s already displacing many, many people worldwide from their homes—700,000 people have to relocate each year because of desertification in the drylands of Mexico, and thousands more have been forced away from home by cyclones, such as in Tuvalu (in the South Pacific) and Puerto Rico. The United Nations estimated that between 2008 and 2015, weather-related displacement affected an average of 26.4 million people per year. So far, though, very few countries have publicly pledged to help such migrants.
While the global community has been fighting for refugee rights for decades—the Refugee Convention came into being in 1951 and was significantly expanded in 1967—climate refugees are not given the same consideration as those fleeing from war. Azhar argued that perhaps they should be. The Paris climate agreement includes no mentions of climate refugees, in part because such a term would be difficult to precisely define.
There are many short-term actions that could help climate refugees around the world. Azhar advocated for major economic powers such as the United States, China, Russia, India, Australia, and members of the European Union to offer temporary protected status to climate migrants on their soil. Additionally, major international policies like the United Nations refugee conventions could be expanded to better protect those affected by climate issues.