COP 21: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’ – Finding Solutions to Climate Change and Refugees



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Post by Charlotte Billingham. FEPS Executive Advisor.

On the opening of the COP21 today we are reminded about how solutions to climate change are inextricably linked to other issues.

Seeing the thousands of pairs of shoes yesterday in Place de la République calling on leaders as they’re arriving into Paris to take action on climate change plays well on the old saying ‘put yourself in their shoes’.

As a matter of solidarity with younger and future generations and also as a matter of climate justice we of course don’t want to be the ones that had the chance to change history but didn’t quite manage it.

Climate change is not a future threat, it is something real and is affecting millions of people globally now. The affects of this are set to worsen in our lifetime.

As Progressives it is clear for us that if we address inequalities in our societies, at the same time we will be addressing climate change. Or by addressing land use problems we will find solutions to better harvests. Similarly if 70% of the planet is made up of water in our ocean’s, by respecting even only this, this we can protect over two thirds of our planet.

From an economic perspective looking at the cost-benefits is important. We know that we need to completely re-think our models of society and therefore the way we consume and produce.

We have also been saying for many years that it is the most vulnerable groups in society who are most affected by climate change and yet they are also the ones who are not causing it, are the least equipped politically to be able to do something about it and also the most ill-resourced to be able to deal with its effects.

Research and forecasts are already showing that climate change is undoubtedly going to cause a lot of displacement of people in the coming decades. More and more people will have to leave their place of home because drivers of climate-induced displacement such as sea-level rise, water scarcity, desertification etc. are set to increase in intensity due to more extreme weather conditions.

Currently there is no EU or global legislation that recognises an economic refugee or a climate refugee. The current mass refugee crisis highlights the need for solutions to address this in different ways. Be it policies to deal with inequalities or consumption and production, but also we already need to be thinking about how to deal with displaced people caused by climate change.

Therefore one of the issues that should be concretely on the table at the COP and straight after too in EU and national discussions is an adequate legislative framework for climate refugees.

Firstly this framework needs to recognise climate refugees and then establish structures of dealing with this.

Current legislation being drafted on migration, asylum and refugee status needs to take the affects of climate change into account already too.

Those shoes could very easily one day be your shoes.

This is the first of a series of posts that Charlotte Billingham will write from Paris during the COP 21. 

Read the second post: How desirable is the Just Transition at the COP21?