Ziaul Hoque Mukta

Making the move for ‘Climate Refugees’

December 1, 2011
Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Studies conducted at local and national levels, reports published worldwide and assessments by global organisations reiterate that Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries due to adverse impact of anthropogenic climate change. One of the crucial aspects of vulnerability that people of Small Islands and low lying countries including Bangladesh will have to contest is ‘displacement’. Civil and political societies including the political authority of the country aren’t unaware about this approaching disaster. Consequently, they urged global leadership to initiate appropriate measures for tackling the depressing future. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently stated again, “Since Bangladesh is likely to have huge human displacement due to climate change, we want establishment of an international regime under the UN to tackle the situation.”

One must appreciate the PM for the statement she made before a global audience. However, the extent of the problem demands some specific action rather than making statements. The actions should be set off at local, national, regional and international levels. Still it’s not clear whether the political authority has identified strategies and contributing activities for the respective areas of engagement.

National Strategies may consider the following propositions.

An intense national consultative process to devise national strategies could be kicked off under the scope of Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) 2009. Among others, the consultative process must include affected people, their local governments and scientists. These strategies should guide the national vision and plans including the perspective plan, five year plan and annual budget, as well as sector specific policies. The long pending draft of ‘Disaster Management Act (DMA)’ must be passed and implemented as early as possible.

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Existing social safety net programmes should be realigned to support the displaced people. The government may initiate special safety net program to reach people displaced by riverbank and coastal erosion, cyclone and slow onset process including water logging and salinity intrusion. The ‘ashrayan’ program must provide access to options for people’s livelihoods. Government must ensure that UN’s ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ is valued by all implementing agencies associated with the movement, resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of displaced people.

Sub-Paragraph F of Paragraph 14 of the Cancun Agreement adopted at the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December 2010 brings an opportunity before vulnerable countries to shape national and international programs under ‘adaptation framework’ and negotiate support for the implementation of those programs. The text ensures “measures to enhance understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at the national, regional and international levels.” Now it’s the responsibility of the negotiators of the vulnerable countries to engage with vigorous negotiations to secure programs and support for the displaced people, as well as to combat the situation that will force people to leave their habitat.

Following the statements delivered by political authority, the government must make a formal submission to the UN for the ‘establishment of an international regime under the UN’. Such a submission will make it clear that the government is serious and wants to go beyond rhetoric. The submission may refer to the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ and voluntary measures taken by different countries, e.g. Migration (Climate Refugees) Amendment Bill 2007 of Australia that creates a new visa category for the displaced people.

In addition to four major propositions stated above, the government must explore all possible opportunities at regional and global level.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could be an important forum to discuss this as displacement harms stability, peace and security for communities, states and regions. An amendment to the Geneva Convention (1951) may include additional connotation to the term ‘refugee’ to address the issue of displaced people. Bangladesh must focus more on the same while coordinating the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) and contributing the negotiating positions of Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) at different UN processes including UNFCCC. National strategies for the facilitation of internal and international migration of displaced people may extended to trade and development programs as well, thus, institutions like UNCTAD could be a helpful one. Displaced people should be considered as ‘Universal Natural Person’ and consequently receive special support from national government to get access to global service sector under the mode four of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It is expected that the government will be able to understand the propositions, facilitate a national process to assess the situation and initiate discussions, dialogues and negotiations at all possible forums.

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Ziaul Hoque Mukta is the Regional Policy Coordinator for Oxfam GB Asia. Email: zmukta@oxfam.org.uk.

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5 Responses to “ Making the move for ‘Climate Refugees’ ”

  1. Jennifer Doherty on April 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Hello, this is such an excellent article.

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimetres will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.

    At present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.

    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees`.

  2. subah on December 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    thank you so much for your writing.i think we all should raise our voice on this matter.

  3. afsan chowdhury on December 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I blame ourselves, the activists and advocates for failing to draw attention to the issue. The analysis that precededs our action is poor and not going to result in any significant response.

    Much of the difficulty is also in the location of our arguments which is based on the appeal to the goodself of the people addressed to. Basically, we are hoping that people — the Western people — will heed all the negatives and change behaviour. But behaviour never changes this way. There has to be some incentive to do this but we offer none. Point is can we?

    Westerners are quite aware that the worst impact will not be on them but us and they can take it easy. In fact, I don’t think they can change their behaviour even if they want to because their lifestyle, even a reasonbale one is based on cheap and abundant oil availability. So millions stay in the suburbs and commute from there and these are ordinary people, many of whom are supporters of causes. But if oil is less available, these poele will not be able to commute and if they can’t, they will lose jobs and that will result in economic chaos for them and the West.

    As a climate change activist in Canada and part of the Toronto Climate Campaign, I engage with all kinds of activists and trade Union leaders but find that beyond some general ideas, there is no speific understanding.

    I don’t think the West cares and I don’t see why they think they should care. Nobody has convinced them why they are at risk and are they really at risk ?

    For us the issue is emotional but that is not so with the West and that is why there is no sense of any urgency. If you look at how every Summit from Rio down has promised but never delivered you will get my point.

    I think we need to think far more radically beginning with the understanding of Western institutions and our own to make a case. And we should remember all the time that it may be already very late for many of us.

    Thank you for your article and I offer my my respects for what you do all the time.

  4. Golam Arshad on December 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Right! Grave concern needs urgent attention!! Good job!

  5. Syeda Tasneem on December 1, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Are we Bangladeshis aware of our duties towards our environment? Do we have any restrictions over brickfields, disposal of hazardous wastes and protection of agricultural lands? These are not less important than our going underwater.

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