Event Review: Climate change exacerbates migration

According to the panelists of the Center for American Progress panel discussion today, climate change does not cause migration, but rather exacerbates it. The root causes of migration are political and economic instability, they stressed. There will be up-front costs to protect against the causes of such migration, but the potential costs of inaction could prove far greater.

Here is some basic information about migration. There are four different types, two that are gradual and two that are quick. According to Susan Martin, Herzberg Professor of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, the first one is due to drought; the second due to rising sea levels; the third due to natural disasters; and the fourth due to conflict over resources.

Most migration in general is domestic, she added. This is somewhat shown in the existence of more domestic policy regarding this area. Unfortunately, there is no good policy to help international environmental migrants; migrants cannot be considered refugees because they’re not being persecuted so there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to have a legal framework to work with.

According to David Waskow, Climate Change Program Director, Oxfam America, other actions which need to be taken include building climate resilience and adaptation strategies, managing risk and promoting insurance, and resettling populations when absolutely necessary. Building climate resilience means addressing water scarcity, improving agriculture and minimizing risk from severe weather. Promoting insurance means implementing micro insurance which is like micro finance but in the context of insurance. This would enable small farmers to buy insurance based on the weather index. So the insurance would kick in depending on the weather. Premiums would be paid for by many families who do work to mitigate climate change in other ways such as developing water dams and compost systems.

How much would all of this cost, you ask? About $77- 89 billion per year. How are we going to convince our policymakers to appropriate that much money? I have no idea. One thing is pretty clear though, if the government were to spend money on fighting migration, it should be in the form of adaptation assistance and not higher fences. We have to remember that migrants are people and therefore, we shouldn’t demonize them. Susan Martin made a very good point that migration has positive effects as well. However, only the negative effects were discussed during the hearing.


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