C Explanatory memorandum, by Mr Ivan
In the course of human history, there have been frequent
migratory movements induced by recurrent causes, such as long-term
changes in climate, natural disasters, demographic or economic crises,
or even wars. Not only natural causes, but also politics and economics
are responsible for population movements. Human beings move to places
where conditions are kinder in order to survive when nature becomes
too restrictive. In such cases, migration is initiated and managed
by a group, in order to preserve a balance between population size
and natural resources. It is used as a way of regulating population
surpluses, or as a “safety valve” when various kinds of tensions,
including ecological tensions, arise.Note
2. However, when the biophysical environment is destroyed or
suffers lasting deterioration, migration may be transformed into
enforced mobility, leading to a break, an interruption in the functioning
of the group, rather than ensuring its continuity and reproduction.
In the context of growing international awareness that the environment
is at ever greater risk, a new category of forced migrants has recently
appeared, known as “environmental refugees” or “environmental migrants”.
Who are these new refugees?
3. The rapporteur adopted a working definition, one supplied
in 2007 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM): “persons
or groups of persons who, for reasons of sudden or progressive changes
in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions
are obliged to leave their homes or choose to do so, either temporarily
or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”.
4. Hitherto, climate change and environmental deterioration have
not been politically or economically linked to migration. We are
now finding that decisions to migrate do have an impact, although
we cannot gauge the extent of the migration phenomenon.
5. The number of ecological refugees in the world is differently
assessed by different sources, but cautious estimates are that there
almost 10 million. In 1999, the International Red Cross put forward
a figure of 25 million. Even more worryingly, projections based
on the low estimates show that this number might rise to 25 million
by 2010, then soar to 150 million by 2050 (figures estimated by
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC). In this
context, migratory movements of ecological refugees could become
one of the greatest demographic challenges of the 21st century.
6. The figures put forward for the number of environmental refugees
are so worrying that Professor Norman Myers, of Oxford University,
says that ecological migration is becoming a major geopolitical
factor internationally. In his view, there could be 200 million
environmental migrants in 2050. This forecast was corroborated last
October by the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.
Deterioration of the environment would then become the main cause
of forced displacement, overtaking the traditional religious, political
or ethnic grounds.
7. According to Janos Bogardi, Director of the UN University
Institute for the Environment and Human Security, “there are well-founded
fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental
conditions may grow exponentially as the world experiences the effects
of climate change and other phenomena”.
8. One of the main problems posed by this category of persons
is that most of them come from poor countries which are still developing
and very much depend on agriculture. In practice, over 90% of all
the deaths ascribable to natural disasters occur in developing countries.
In the absence of any legal mechanism to protect them, ecological
refugees are very likely to be regarded as economic migrants in
9. The Chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, cites as evidence
of this the numerous disturbances affecting the planet as a result
of global warming, driving whole peoples to leave their own countries.
In the wake of political, economic and ecological refugees come
the climate change refugees. It is they who, tomorrow, will be at
the heart of the issues raised by global warming. The corollary
of this will be the very sensitive question of their status.
Environmental migrants may be divided into four categories,
often partly determined by climate change. They migrate because
- soil degradation, rising
water levels and desertification, brought about by increasing emissions
of greenhouse gases;
- one-off natural disasters;
- industrial disasters;
- major infrastructure and industrial development projects.
11. Greenhouse gases have a particularly harmful influence on
the climate in several respects. The rise in temperature is the
initial effect, which is central to the problems created by climate
change on earth. Alaska faces the problem of the melting of its
Arctic permafrost, while the very existence of the Oceanian islands
is threatened by rising sea levels. The increase in temperature,
which is estimated to average between 1.4ºC and 5.8ºC by the end
of the 21st century, is also expected to bring about a rise in sea
levels of the order of 88 centimetres. By 2080, up to 20% of the
world’s coastal wetlands may therefore have been submerged.
12. As the seawater rises, we need to remember that almost 500
million people live within five kilometres of the coast, and nearly
350 million live less than five metres above sea level, or even
below sea level. A first, and tragic, example of a resultant enforced
migratory movement is occurring at the very heart of Polynesia. Surrounded
by turquoise seas a few kilometres away from the equator, the Tuvalu
archipelago, comprising a small number of islets with a total area
of 26 square metres, and with a population of 11 000, will have completely
disappeared under the water by 2050. At the very least, the islets
and atolls may become completely uninhabitable as the arable lands
become chronically flooded and the ground water becomes saline.
Residents are therefore being obliged to find somewhere else to
live. But that somewhere else does not yet exist: the neighbouring
countries (Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, etc.) are accepting
only a very few refugees, imposing extremely severe conditions for
13. The inhabitants of Carteret atoll, regarded as the world’s
first official eco-refugees, were forced to migrate as the sea level
rose, the rise being thought to be a consequence of global warming.
Ten families were evacuated by the government of Papua New Guinea
14. In Asia, in 2005, half of the island of Bhola, in Bangladesh,
disappeared under floodwater, leaving around half a million people
homeless. Large numbers of villagers are leaving their homes to
join the poverty-stricken hordes living around the edges of cities.
Soil salination and pressure on the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the
south-west of Bangladesh are leading thousands of families to move
to the shanty towns of Dacca, where they scrape a living doing jobs
such as driving rickshaws. By 2050, 15 million Bangladeshis will
be seeking shelter outside their country’s borders, but where will
they go? The country’s neighbours, India and Burma, are unwilling
to take them in. Serious geopolitical tensions are already to be
feared in the region in the decades ahead. If the 88 centimetre
rise in sea levels predicted by various models actually occurs,
20% of the territory of Bangladesh will be under water, and over
20 million residents will be displaced.
15. In Europe, the Netherlands has been very much concerned by
the rise in temperatures since the days when dykes and polders were
created, and has recently invested in technologies to provide some
homes with floatability, so that residents do not have to join the
ranks of climate change refugees. The French coastal town of Rivesaltes
has built special dykes to prevent sharks from becoming a danger
to the population when water levels rise.
16. In other countries, the threat comes, not from the water,
but more from a lack of water. In Asia, Africa and Latin America,
a combination of deforestation and rising temperatures is speeding
up desertification, threatening several million more people. Some
Fulah herders from Mali and Burkina Faso took refuge in Ghana as
early as 1983 and 1984, when drought struck their country and the
desert expanded. The process was repeated in the years that followed.
In 1992-93, some Mozambican farmers fled to Zambia, and some Soninke had
to leave the Kayes region of Mali.
17. In the Sahel, disturbed weather patterns are causing serious
food crises. Floods alternate with drought, disrupting the crop
sowing and harvest cycle. In 2005 and 2007, poor rainy seasons worsened
the cereal shortfall in Burkina Faso and Niger, driving young people
to leave their villages in order to reduce the numbers of mouths
to be fed and to earn a little money in the towns. A charity called Secours populaire carried out several
emergency projects in the Sahel region. In Niger, for instance,
it provided assistance with the digging of semi-circular wells,
which enable water loss to be prevented. When heavy rain falls,
the rainwater irrigates the earth deep down, instead of lying on
the surface. In Burkina Faso, reforestation and irrigation projects
are under way.
18. Recent events in Burma and China have resulted in thousands
of deaths and made hundreds of thousands of people homeless. We
are all aware of the seriousness of the situation. The 2004 tsunami displaced
over 2 million people, while Hurricane Katrina forced 1.5 million
people to leave their homes, 500 000 of whom have not gone back.
19. In January and February 2001, thousands of people were driven
out of their homes by powerful earthquakes in El Salvador, which
caused lethal landslides on mountain slopes that had been cleared
so as to be used for subsistence agriculture.
20. The tsunami which hit the coast of Papua New Guinea in 1998
caused thousands of deaths because homes had been built along the
coast and around the lagoons. When the Yangtze River caused widespread flooding
in China, the disaster was all the greater for the deforestation
and erosion that were the consequences of overdevelopment for housing
along the river banks.
21. On 26 April 1986, reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power
station in Ukraine exploded, releasing huge quantities of radioactive
particles into the air. In just a few days, the wind had carried
the radioactive cloud across 40% of Europe, and fallout had contaminated
extensive areas of Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation.
More than twenty years after the greatest civil nuclear disaster
in history, 5 million people are still exposed to higher than normal
radiation in the former Soviet republics. According to the World
Health Organization, almost 270 000 of them are still living in
regions which the authorities, at the time of the accident, classified
as “strictly controlled zones”.
22. Another example from China is the giant Three Gorges dam,
which came into service in June 2006 at the end of an epic building
project which had lasted thirteen years. Two kilometres long and
185 metres high, it regulates the flow of the world’s third-longest
river, the Yangtze, in a central area of the country. A great technical
feat with appalling human and ecological consequences, the Three
Gorges dam has flooded 13 towns and 4 500 villages, swallowed up
162 archaeological sites, including some of the most important ones in
China, and seen almost 2 million people, who had been living in
areas which were to be flooded, displaced by force and rehoused
in newly built towns. They received no compensation, some NGOs claiming
that the funds earmarked to compensate villagers had been misappropriated.
Lastly, biologists say that over 10 000 plant and animal species,
some of them endemic – as in the case of the Chinese sturgeon –
are under threat now that the dam is in service.
23. Following natural disasters, rebuilding operations almost
always disadvantage the poorest people and benefit the major multinationals,
rather than local industry. In Sri Lanka, property developers have,
for example, built tourist complexes in locations previously used
by local fishermen. And such disasters, for those who stay put,
give rise to tensions between populations competing for natural
resources. As Christian Aid says, “a world of many more Darfurs
is the increasingly likely nightmare scenario”.
24. Refugees often pose a threat to the areas where they are staying.
The 1994 Rwanda crisis brought over 600 000 people into the north-western
part of the United Republic of Tanzania, where they caused considerable
environmental damage by cutting wood to burn and to make posts with,
poaching game and planting crops.
25. In Vietnam, moving people two kilometres from their place
of residence causes highly complex social problems relating to employment,
family culture and local culture. We should not think in terms of
individuals, but of population groups.
26. Anyone who faces possible death is granted political asylum.
Some countries are more capable than others of coping with ecological
disasters. And there are countries with which it is difficult to
reach agreement. One example is Burma, which, it has to be said,
would rather let its people die than let them leave.
27. These population movements are only just beginning. Everything
points to continuing deterioration of the global climate. The greenhouse
gas emissions reduction targets set in Kyoto, which are extremely
low as it is, seem very unlikely to be achieved. Consequently, more
disaster situations are to be expected. The experts are predicting
population movements mainly within the South, as well as tensions
affecting Pacific and Indian Ocean islands, such as the Maldives.
But the problems that these population movements cause require international
regulation and responsibility.
28. No regions are safe from change, although Europe will surely
remain an inhabitable region. Are we aware of the extent of the
problem? And do we realise what responsibility we bear, we whose
lives are relatively safe? We must limit the extent of the climate
changes that are under way. But the question of our overall responsibility
is far wider: since we are primarily responsible for climate change
(for it is we who produce the most greenhouse gases), is it not
our responsibility to deal with the damage ultimately suffered by
the poorest populations? Clearly, there is also a political question
here: what assistance should we offer, what reception should we
give to “ecological refugees”?
29. As stated in the Limoges Declaration, nothing could be more
dangerous than to give the impression that there is nothing we can
do. The very least that we can do to demonstrate our solidarity
with these peoples who are in danger is to inform people about this
urgent situation and about human responsibility for global warming.
30. In some western countries, the debate about climate change
refugees is vitiated by current tensions about immigration policies.
These are countries where the distribution of this new immigration
burden, as well as recognition of their responsibility for global
warming, has enormous implications.
31. Since 1992, a definition of the duties of developed countries
has existed in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted
in Rio. Article 4.4, for instance, states that “The developed country Parties
[…] shall also assist the developing country parties that are particularly
vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs
of adaptation to those adverse effects”.
32. The first of the measures to take will be definition of a
status for these displaced persons. There is to date no legally
defined status for ecological refugees in international law, for
which this new refugee category throws up new challenges. The UN
is nevertheless calling for recognition of a legal status for environmental refugees,
in a form similar to that of political refugees. Such recognition
also implies the setting up of funds specifically dedicated to this
category of persons. Experts are calling for an international fund
to be set up on the same principle as the IOPC (International Oil
Pollution Compensation) Funds, with sufficient resources to deal
with large-scale ecological disasters.
33. The existence of ecological refugees has significant economic,
sociocultural and political consequences. Developed countries currently
spend US$8 billion a year assisting refugees, which is one seventh
of the foreign aid given to developing countries.
34. In Mozambique, the government is moving populations whose
homes have been repeatedly flooded into camps financed by the authorities
and, even more so, by international aid. Outside assistance raises
a question. If it is necessary, is it a lasting solution for persons
displaced following natural disasters?
35. The economic and ecological repercussions of climate change
are taking on worrying proportions, and the European Union, which
has already played a leading political role in this field, needs
to step up its efforts to combat climate change.
36. In February 2008, the UN General Assembly expressed the view
that climate change influenced peace and security, including international
migration, thus interlinking security and the environment, climate
change and population movements.
37. The effects of climate change will lead us to give states
more assistance to reduce the risks of, and prepare for, disasters.
Measures to limit the risks of disasters relate to spatial planning,
the management of national resources, factory locations and development.
Many factors are involved, and we need to find solutions.
38. The greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set in the
Kyoto Protocol, which are extremely low as it is, are unlikely to
be enough to keep climate change in check, and in any case seem
highly unlikely to be met. Equatorial deforestation, particularly
in Borneo and Amazonia, further increases the harmful effects on
the climate of the causes already mentioned. Reforestation of the
abandoned regions that have become deserts will be necessary in
order to achieve the objective set at the Bali Conference, namely
to restore the areas occupied by forests to their 1990 levels, and
the decision taken in Bali to bring tropical forest destruction
to an end, especially in Brazil and Indonesia, will also have to
39. We welcome certain countries’ efforts to reverse the deforestation
trend and to carry out various reforestation projects. According
to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than a
billion trees were planted in 2007, especially in Ethiopia (700
million), Mexico (217 million), etc. Thailand also successfully
increased its forest areas by 10%, achieving its current total of
26% of its territory.
40. Although global warming seems inevitable, human energies need
to be harnessed to reduce the speed of the warming process and,
as far as possible, to minimise the effects of these changes, with
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to the fore. In order to
achieve this major objective, a reduction is necessary in the amounts
of electricity and heat generated from polluting fossil fuels (coal,
oil and gas). The polluting countries are reluctant to pay, despite
the industrialised countries’ responsibility for global warming
having been officially recorded in the treaties on the basis of
the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.
41. Encouragement must be given to the production of energy from
renewable sources, mainly hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and tidal
energy, as well as the use of biomass. Another stage in this policy
is an increase in energy efficiency through a reduction in the amount
of energy wasted, and through optimisation of the energy consumption
of industrial plants, the construction industry and urban transport.
42. Finally, we welcome the decision taken by the European Union,
the United States and Japan to set up a centre to manage and co-ordinate
the fight against climate change. Only the combined efforts of every country
in the world will make success possible and ensure sustainable development
for humankind both now and in the future.
Reporting committee: Committee
on Migration, Refugees and Population.
Committee for opinion: Committee
on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs.
Reference to committee: Doc. 11084 and Reference No. 3297 of 22 January 2007, modified
by Reference No. 3317 of 16 March 2007.
Opinion approved by
the committee on 27 January 2009.
Secretariat of the committee: Mrs
Nollinger, Mr Torcătoriu, Mrs Karanjac.