Speaking for climate refugees

Speaking for climate refugees
As climate devastation displaces more people around the world, Juliette Williams, Founder and Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, speaks about how the rights of these climate refugees must be protected

The impacts of climate change are already being felt, and, for many, the result is devastating. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has been raising awareness of climate refugees since 2009 and has just launched a new campaign calling for urgent action on climate change, as well as recognition and legal protection for those displaced by its effects. 

EJF’s climate campaign aims to secure international protection for the world’s growing population of climate refugees. By recognising and protecting the rights of an ever- growing number of displaced people, we can start working towards climate justice together. 

As climate change takes hold, extreme weather, diminishing natural resources and the rising costs of inaction are leaving the poorest and most vulnerable in our society at risk. 

Extreme weather events – from floods and storms, to heatwaves and droughts – are already displacing an estimated 41 people every minute. As temperatures continue to increase, these climate extremes will worsen: sea levels will rise, glaciers will melt and the world’s most vulnerable will bear the brunt.

By 2060, it’s estimated that 1.4 billion people will have been forced to leave their homes as a result of climate change. Right now, the refugee crisis is being mismanaged and every day thousands are putting their lives at risk due to insufficient legal rights and protection. As the number of refugees rises, the need to address this failing will only become more urgent. 

To mitigate against these impacts, action on climate change needs to be taken now. To ensure that the ambitious commitments of the Paris Agreement are implemented and to offer protection to those who are, and will be, impacted by climate change, the EJF has launched its climate campaign. 

At EJF’s core is a simple but powerful belief: we all depend on the natural environment for our livelihood and well-being, and this environmental security is a basic human right. For millions of people around the world, environmental degradation means, hunger, poverty and vulnerability. 

This approach has brought many successes in the past. By documenting cases of slavery in Thailand’s seafood sector, EJF brought the issue to the world’s attention. EJF’s campaigns continue after the investigative stage to ensure that awareness leads to real change. By maintaining assistance in Thailand, EJF has been able to work with the government to take real, concrete steps towards tackling illegal fishing and the associated human rights abuses.

Since EJF began working to raise awareness of the plight of climate refugees in 2009, the issue has become increasingly prominent around the world. Initially, the concept was relatively unheard of and ignored on the global stage, but step by step there has been more acknowledgement of the issue. 

Since then, EJF has addressed the first-ever Joint Committee Hearing for Human Rights and the Environment in the European Parliament, published briefings and reports, and filmed interviews with key persons from the climate and security spheres. Today, the term ‘climate refugees’ is widely used by governments, UN bodies and the media across the world. 

Seizing this momentum offers the chance to fight for legal definitions and legal protections. This year EJF travelled to Bangladesh to meet climate refugees and document their stories for a film coming out in 2018. By calling on the international community and, in particular, the European Union, to develop new legal definitions for climate refugees, EJF is demanding a new legally binding agreement to ensure their greater protection and rights.

EJF believes it is vital that a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change is created to examine the issues surrounding climate change and human mobility. 

The best way to protect vulnerable communities is to take urgent climate action. You can support EJF’s campaign by signing its petition, adding your voice to the call for EU leaders to stand up for climate refugees. 

More about the EJF’s climate campaign can be found on their website: https://ejfoundation.org/what-we-do/climate/protecting-climate-refugees