Climate change and forced migration: a reality we must face now

In recent weeks, dozens of forest fires in the Pacific coast of the U.S. continue to destroy houses and take lives.

September 17th, 2020 The impact of climate change on our planet is a reality that we live every day. Nevertheless, it is something that people opt to avoid because of fear, difficulty to understand or impotence. Since the majority of climate change effects are slow and almost imperceptible, they do not appear in big headlines and those concerned are still almost exclusive to environmental activists or the scientific community. Furthermore, world leaders prefer to deny or ignore climate change because of the actions required as  consequence acknowledgement. However, there are more and more events related to climate change that are real warning signs.


During the last weeks, dozens of forest fires in the Pacific coast of the U.S. continue to raze houses and kill people. On Sunday, September 13, the National Interagency Fire Center reported fires all along the West Coast. The orange sky seen in different cities of the West Coast reveal that we are not in a typical fire season, but rather facing a climate emergency related to droughts and high temperatures. The major concerns are that, in the aftermath of tragedies, the government and people’s response is to rebuild, which is possible due to federal assistance and homeowners’s insurance. Housing in dry zones that have high probability of fires in the next few years is still going to be a problem. We live in a vicious circle of fires and devastation because authorities prefer to rebuild rather than tackling the situation with difficult, complex, and costly actions including relocation.


This is not the only recent case. Let us not forget the fires in Australia in early 2020 or Hurricane Sally, which landed on the U.S. this week with torrential rain. This and other situations that generate concern on coastal zones relate to increasing sea levels and tidal changes. Equally, there have been changes in the Atlantic Ocean’s tropical storms and hurricanes intensity, just like in Asia with typhoons. In Central America, climate change takes form as floods and landslides, but its major impacts are the droughts in the Dry Corridor that increase poverty and force internal relocation and migration. The crisis for food security in the wake of climate change is real in Central America.


Faced with this situation, it is necessary to acknowledge climate change and develop public policy directed to change human and industrial activity that contributes to global warming. Everyone can do something. Concerted international action, such as the Paris Agreement, the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 25, and the Global Compact for Migration are the first steps, even though they lack political will and commitment. Furthermore, revision of national policies in every country is mandatory to regulate and limit greenhouse gas emissions and to address climate change in their territory offering relocation possibilities to people at risk. It is important to recognize that climate change pushes people to leave their countries to seek protection. Legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress for the matter must be considered. The national budget must reflect the environmental imbalance and consider forced relocation and international migration because of climate change as matter to attend to immediately. This reality is not a prediction. We are in an emergency that we cannot continue denying and that requires an immediate response. It is necessary to include impact mitigation and relocation among public policy priorities and international action.

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