Climate change is the single most pressing challenge of our time. It transcends inter-state borders, affecting every aspect of our lives, from the environment and economy to food security and global health. Addressing the climate crisis requires bold and innovative solutions, collaboration among nations, industries, communities, and a fundamental shift in our relationship with the planet. Failure to act decisively jeopardizes the future of our world and spells disaster for the prospects of future generations. We are already seeing the consequences of this crisis: especially in the growing phenomenon of climate migration.
Climate migration is the movement of people from their countries of origin due to the effects of climate change. It’s a catastrophic consequence of our ailing planet, as people are compelled to seek new places to live due to factors like rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and increasing resource scarcity. These are not journeys embarked upon lightly: migrants face the difficult decision of leaving behind their homes and their livelihoods, often risking their lives in dangerous passages across thousands of miles.
Tens of millions of people have already been forcibly displaced by climate change, hundreds of millions more will likely face the same over the next few decades. I believe the world has both a moral responsibility and faces the practical necessity of agreeing a system whereby these migrants are granted citizenship in countries across the globe. We must establish truly global citizenship to ensure those who are displaced can find a fresh start and that the responsibility of accommodating them is spread equitably.
Citizenship is enshrined as a fundamental human right. Denying this to climate migrants who have been forced to leave their homes due to circumstances beyond their control cuts them off from essential conditions of prosperity, such as access to education, healthcare, and legal protection. Beyond the moral responsibility, which must not be understated, there are also practical concerns. The absence of a streamlined and equitable pathway to citizenship for climate migrants force many to resort to attempting illegal journeys, often via criminal smuggling organisations that have become ubiquitous across the Mediterranean. Thousands die in the sea, or are coerced into working for these criminals upon completion of their journeys.
Much of the dialogue around migration has been co-opted by the forces of nativism and division, especially in Europe and the United States. We must reframe the narrative that offering citizenship to climate migrants is nothing more than an economic sacrifice by the host state. It is in fact the opposite: an economic opportunity. Granting citizenship to climate migrants can accelerate their integration into host communities, for the benefit of all. Increased tax revenue, a larger productive workforce, and the opportunity for more diversification in national economies.
The dire effects of climate change do not discriminate, and neither should we. Forging greater acceptance of climate migrants recognizes the shared responsibility of all nations in addressing the impacts of climate change. It acknowledges that the consequences often fall disproportionately on those who have contributed the least to the problem. This recognition forges greater commitment to meeting these global challenges. Protecting our planet is but one part of an array of systemic problems that cannot be solved by any nation in isolation.
Throughout history, there have been many instances that have recalibrated how we have defined our sense of self, and our relationship to others: women’s suffrage, decolonization, the birth of the internet. The climate emergency is one of these epoch-defining shifts, forcing us to reconsider our conception as isolated selves, and move towards a more interdependent community. As the climate crisis intensifies, we find ourselves at a critical juncture where global challenges demand global solutions.
A unified approach is the only realistic way we can solve the problem posed by mass climate migration. This year’s Global Citizen Forum looks to do just that. The second part of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ trilogy, ‘Earth Age’, will look to our relationship to the planet and to each other as deeply interconnected beings. Over the course of two days of talks, interactive events, and workshops, global changemakers will look to build dialogue around a more sustainable, equitable future for our world. Only when we move from a place of suspicion to a place of acceptance, can we forge a path toward a better tomorrow, where our shared commitment to the planet transcends borders and divisions.