Monday, March 23, 2009

Who is responsible for ‘climate change refugees?’

India is taking concrete steps to ensure national security against the threat of ‘climate change refugees’ from neighboring Bangladesh in calling for 2,100 miles worth of high-tech fencing along its border with Bangladesh. Understandably, India can barely provide for its own citizens and does not want responsibility for these people whose homelands are being destroyed by rising sea levels and increasing climate variability.

Western governments avoid the term ‘refugee’ because it may lead to a call for international aid from these countries that have emitted the majority of GHG emissions in the past, arguably causing the problem. The UN is also wary of the term because they feel it does disservice to those who fall under the original legal definition of refugee, which focuses on refugees fleeing due to brutal dictatorships, violence, repression and civil wars.

Environmental and human rights groups, including local migration agencies feel the term is appropriate. They feel the term accurately describes the situation in Bangladesh; "If a family lost his house or capital, if he doesn't have any place to get housing or buy food, he should go some other place. He's a refugee. If it happened because of climate impact, then he's a climate refugee," said Sarder Shafiqul Alam, a research fellow at the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Dhaka.

For countries like Bangladesh, ‘a country that could provide more climate refugees than anywhere else on earth,’ said Isabel Hilton, an environmental commentator whose London-based nonprofit promotes climate change dialogue in China and throughout Asia, this becomes an important issue and will only continue to cause increased tension in the future if not solved properly.

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