SAN DIEGO (AP) — Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden issued what was widely hailed as a landmark executive order calling on the U.S. government to study and plan for the impact of climate change on migration. . And less than a year later, his administration released the US government’s first assessment of the broad ripple effects of a warming Earth on international security and the displacement of people.
Supporters hailed the two measures as bold steps towards the world finally acknowledging the need to offer refuge to people fleeing not only wars and persecution, but also climatic calamities such as drought and rising seas.
Since then, however, the Biden administration has done little more than study the idea, supporters say.
The government has been slow to implement recommendations made a year ago by its own agencies, including the National Security Council, on how to tackle climate migration.
The creation of an inter-agency task force to coordinate the government’s response to domestic and international climate migration has been key to making progress on the issue.
But the group, which was supposed to oversee policies, strategies and budgets to help climate-displaced people, has still not been created, according to a person familiar with the efforts of the administration that was not authorized to speak out publicly. The person said the group is expected to hold its first meeting later this fall. The administration declined to identify the agencies that will participate in the task force.
Meanwhile, Biden’s report to Congress on his plans to admit refugees to the United States in fiscal year 2023 makes little mention of climate change.
Supporters once spurred on by the administration’s promises to embrace climate-displaced people say they have grown disillusioned.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Ama Francis, climate migration expert at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a New York-based advocacy group. “We want to see concrete action. There are needs right now. But all we see is the administration moving more slowly and remaining in an exploratory phase, rather than actually doing something.
This is despite government reports from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the National Security Council, and the Director of National Intelligence that have underscored “the urgency of expanding current protections and creating new legal pathways to safety of climate-displaced people,” Francis said.
Every year, natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people from their homes worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And scientists predict that migration will increase as the planet warms. Over the next 30 years, 143 million people are at risk of being uprooted by rising seas, drought, scorching temperatures and other climatic disasters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this year. UN climate.
National security officials have also recommended increasing U.S. assistance to countries regularly hit by extreme weather and bolstering support for U.S. climate scientists and others to track such events.
To that end, the government recently released plans to work with Congress to provide billions of dollars annually to help countries adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change, especially for those vulnerable to climate change. worst effects.
At the US-Pacific Islands summit, Biden announced $22 million in funding for climate prediction and research, and building early warning systems in places like Africa, where 60% of nations lack such systems. The administration said it plans to announce more such funding to close that gap at the COP27 global climate summit in Egypt in November.
Environmental disasters now displace more people than conflicts within their own country, although no nation in the world offers asylum to climate migrants.
The 37-page White House report on the impact of climate change on migration was the first time the US government has described the inextricable links between climate change and migration.
Released in October 2021 as Biden headed to the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the report recommended measures, such as monitoring the flows of people forced from their homes due to natural disasters and the working with Congress on a groundbreaking plan that would add droughts, floods, wildfires and other climate-related reasons when considering refugee status.
The report came a year after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued legal guidance that opened the door to protecting those displaced by the effects of global warming.
The guidance says climate change should be considered in certain scenarios when it intersects with violence, although the document did not redefine the 1951 Refugee Convention, which only offers legal protection. people fleeing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, politics. opinion or social group.
The UN refugee agency has acknowledged that temporary protection may be insufficient if a country becomes uninhabitable due to drought or rising seas, and has suggested that some climate-displaced people may be eligible for the resettlement.
Last month, more than a dozen aid organizations sent a letter to the White House urging the government to prioritize refugee populations currently affected by climate change. The population includes: South Sudanese and Ethiopians in Sudan where recurrent drought and flooding exacerbated by climate change threatens refugee camps. And the Rohingyas in Bangladesh where refugee camps are also threatened by floods.
But the Biden administration has not responded to the request, the organizations said.
“It was a positive step for the administration to recognize that it had to work on this issue, which is a first, so now it should deliver on its promise…” said Kayly Ober of Refugees International.
Migration is part of humanity’s adaptation to climate change and will become one of many tools for survival, so governments must now plan accordingly, advocates say.
Humanitarian organizations have provided the administration with reports on how to train immigration officers to better consider climate change when interviewing people seeking asylum or refugee status. They also offered an analysis of possible legal pathways, such as expanded temporary protected status and humanitarian parole, that have allowed people fleeing natural disasters and conflict in a limited list of countries to live and work. in the United States for a few years.
The United States should establish a resettlement category for migrants who do not meet the refugee definition but cannot safely return to their home country due to environmental risks, experts say.
Deteriorating weather conditions are exacerbating poverty, crime and political instability, fueling tensions over dwindling resources from Africa to Latin America. But often climate change is overlooked as a contributing factor for people fleeing their home countries. According to the UN refugee agency, 90% of refugees under its mandate come from countries “on the frontlines of the climate emergency”.
But so far, the United States has made little progress in adopting policies recognizing them.
“Where we have some movement, unfortunately, is only in the rise in the number of forcibly displaced people around the world,” said Amali Tower, founder of advocacy group Climate Refugees.
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