Current estimates suggest that by the end of the century the world will see a temperature rise of up to 5 ° C and will reshape the places where people have lived for thousands of years. Island states like Haiti, Cape Verde and Fiji are exposed to "existential risks" from rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Large parts of Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City and New Orleans could be under water by 2050.
Over the next 30 years, the climate crisis will displace more than 140 million people in their own countries – and many more beyond. Global warming does not respect lines on a map: it will trigger massive waves of displacement across national borders, as has happened in Guatemala and the African Sahel in recent years.
The great climate migration that will change the world is only just beginning. In order to adapt, the international community needs a different political approach. There are two options: climate repairs or climate colonialism. Reparations would use international resources to eliminate the inequalities caused or exacerbated by the climate crisis. This would provide a way out of the climate catastrophe by combating both weakening and migration. The alternative to climate colonialism, on the other hand, would mean the survival of the rich and devastation for the world's most vulnerable people.
As the climate crisis deepens, social divisions will arise within countries and communities between those who can pay to avoid the worst effects of climate change and those who cannot – a system of climate apartheid. In Bangladesh, rising sea levels have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, driving some into poverty and deepening socio-economic inequality. The increasing desertification in Nigeria has created scarcity of water and land resources and has led to conflicts between shepherds and farmers. In the United States, unprecedented forest fires, heat, and smog have hit the hardest of those without housing.
The rich are finding ways to protect themselves from the worst of the climate crisis. In Lagos, Nigeria, for example, the government cleared hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers to make way for developers. The so-called dike wall of the Great Wall of Lagos will protect a planned luxury community on Victoria Island from rising sea levels at the expense of neighboring areas. The poor, the unemployed and those who lack stable housing see their living conditions deteriorating rapidly with no hope of a solution.
On an international level, climate colonialism is like climate apartheid. Economic strength, location and access to resources determine how communities can react to climate impacts. However, these factors are shaped by existing global injustices: the history of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, which enriched some countries at the expense of others. Global warming has exacerbated these inequalities, and the climate crisis will create new divisions between those who can mitigate its effects and those who cannot.
Existing theories of international relations cannot provide policy makers with the intellectual resources to respond to the crisis. The climate crisis is the result of multinational corporations and powerful countries tirelessly pursuing private interests: fossil fuel companies seek profit, governments seek energy security, and private investors seek financial security. These aspirations have contributed to the climate denialism campaigns that have slowed the international response to the climate crisis and which continue to fuel resources and land grabbing in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia.
If these powerful entities do not give up financial and political self-interest in favor of the common good, the pursuit of elite interests in a world where power is so unevenly distributed guarantees climate colonialism – that is, if society survives at all. Over the past few decades, more and more private corporations have recognized corporate social responsibility as the dominant ethos, hoping to balance the goals of for-profit corporations with the common good, thus turning the market into an instrument to drive positive change. However, when short-term shareholder value contrasts with the common good – and it often does – the former tends to win. This disparity in incentives is itself a fundamental cause of the climate crisis.
State actors often support these private companies. For example, recently released documents show that petroleum companies have urged the US to demand that Kenya lift its plastic bag ban as part of a broader trade negotiation – a move that would boost corporate profits. This type of lobbying is widespread. When a government negotiates trade deals it often tries to protect the interests of the corporations that create wealth for the state. While some state actors are less shameful than others, all tend to prioritize their own interests over those of the citizens of another country.
Liberal IR theorists argue that progress is made through cooperation and goodwill in international organizations and seek to revive those international organizations that the United States has neglected since 2017. Once US President Donald Trump leaves office, they believe the United States will return to its helm as the leader of the international rules-based order.
The problem is that returning to the status quo before 2017 will not save the planet either. Long before Trump, international institutions failed the most vulnerable people in the world. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have consistently harmed the countries they want to help. After the oil crisis at the end of the 1970s, the two institutions jointly introduced "structural adjustment programs" in developing countries in order to condition the urgently needed aid for economic policy decisions. The results were catastrophic: structural adjustments were associated with sharp declines in government services for the poorest in the global south and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem by raw material agribusiness.
Perhaps the most glaring example is the international refugee regime. As the philosopher Serena Parekh explains, this regime, which was introduced after World War II, consists of a patchwork of norms and decision-making institutions that were shaped by the rising western powers of the time and were based on a global political system that was structured by them formal colonial rule over much of the world. When the flow of refugees from non-European countries increased in the second half of the 20th century, many Western powers changed their policies. While some refugees have been admitted and relocated, many others have been stored, detained, or turned away in violation of the U.N. Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees – forced return.
Refugee camps proliferated, were sold as a temporary means of rescuing refugees and keeping them pending relocation or their decision to return home (known as the euphemism "voluntary repatriation"), but actually served to keep Western elites from the to protect social and financial responsibility for managing large areas. Scale migration and in particular the political costs of integration and education. The result was incomprehensible: in 2019 only 108,700 refugees out of a total of 26 million were resettled.
Continuing this status quo will make climate colonialism almost certain, especially given the recent responses to migration in Europe, Australia and the United States. The rich western countries have already responded to migration criminally, holding thousands of migrants in detention centers in appalling conditions, and responding with indifference or violence to suicide attempts and protests by detainees in order to obtain better treatment. European countries have been reacting aggressively to the plight of asylum seekers since 2015. There is no evidence that their response to climate refugees would be more humane.
Even the institutions that are specifically responsible for protecting refugees fail. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has so far refused to grant refugee status and protection to the 21.5 million people who flee their homes every year due to sudden weather hazards, and instead have designated them as such " Environmental migrants. " Given this worn out legal protection, it is unlikely that future climate migrants will be better off. What is needed is a bold policy redesign to manage climate migration.
Climate repairs offer a way through the climate crisis without duplicating those dire precedents. The term redress refers to redress and often means one-time transfer of funds or apologies. However, it is difficult to see how these one-off transactions would provide a solution to the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis. Instead, climate repairs are better understood as a systemic approach to reallocating resources and changing the policies and institutions that have perpetuated the damage than a discreet exchange of money or apologies for past misconduct.
A reparations-based approach to the upcoming wave of climate refugees would address two distinct but interrelated issues: climate protection, which seeks to minimize displacement; and only climate migration policies that would respond to displacement that governments could not prevent. The reparations alternative would significantly increase the contributions of developed countries to global efforts to combat climate change and prevent displacement. This would also end the storage of refugees and significantly increase migration from the global south.
Examples of promising mitigation measures are the draft climate law proposed by the European Commission in March 2020, which would represent a legally binding obligation for the European Union to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. The proposal for a Green New Deal, US Congress. Resolutions that represent a new approach to combating climate change also formulate important measures to curb climate change.
However, to mitigate climate change effectively and fairly, the international community must distribute resources widely among states to respond to inequalities in resilience and the unjust system underlying them. As Mohammed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, explains, the international community has already developed a mechanism that could do this job: the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest international fund designed to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to the climate impact. However, the $ 6 billion currently pledged for the GCF is a fraction of the $ 100 billion originally promised to be distributed annually through 2020. Much of the funds committed will come through private sector funding, reclassification of pre-existing aid packages, rather than loans, cash grants or in-kind contributions. As climate impacts increase in some of the world's poorest countries, mechanisms like the GCF become even more important.
A reparative approach to overcoming the climate crisis would require a revision of the existing international refugee regime. With this approach, the international community would reject the formulation of refugee policy as a rescue and reconsider the framework that would allow states to lock refugees in camps with international approval. Parekh writes that western states may be lauded as saviors for helping refugees, but they are seldom held accountable by other states or multinational institutions for not doing enough. However, once the topic is reformulated so that Western states see themselves as contributing to a "system that structurally prevents the majority of refugees from finding refuge", assuming their share in the global resettlement of refugees becomes more of an obligation than to an act of charity.
In the context of the climate crisis, the West is responsible for more than just secondary damage caused by the international refugee regime. A reparative approach tries to understand what damage has been done and how it can be addressed through structural change. A historically sound reaction to climate migration would force western states to grapple with their role in creating the climate crisis and making parts of the world uninhabitable.
Legal scholar E. Tendayi Achiume argues that corrective, distributive justice requires recognition of the entitlement of "third world persons" to "some form of first world citizenship". She presents an argument for the re-conception of state sovereignty that calls into question the right to exclude political foreigners. This framework is particularly relevant in the context of climate justice. Developed economies are largely responsible for the climate crisis and have more resources to deal with the climate impact, while developing countries are often less accountable and ill-equipped to weather the impact, making the political exclusion of climate refugees unfair.
With this in mind, it should be emphasized that the repair frame works on a sliding scale. Taking into account which parts of the world are responsible for the structural injustices that shape the current order reduces the burden placed on countries like China and India on the West. However, their political course could increase their share of the global climate burden compared to other formerly colonized countries. China, for example, has committed to being carbon neutral by 2060, which is a step in the right direction. But it continues to invest in and benefit from coal-fired projects, often in developing countries that are increasingly dependent on Chinese investment.
There is still a lot of groundwork to be done by the United States to implement a climate repair approach. For fiscal 2020, the Trump administration limited the maximum number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to just 18,000. On October 1, the day after a rally in Minnesota at which Trump insulted Somali American MP Ilhan Omar, who was himself a former refugee, his administration announced its intention to accept fewer refugees than ever before. As a first step, the United States must return to its own normalcy. Leaders of both parties have set significantly higher ceilings than Trump: President Ronald Reagan's highest limit was 140,000 refugees, and President Barack Obama set a refugee admission target of 110,000 for 2017.
If more refugees are not accepted, the worst political effects of the climate crisis will be accelerated: the transition of eco-fascism from marginal extremism to the dominant ideology will be driven forward. The recognition of rights of movement and resettlement as well as a steady liberalization of the border politics of the rich countries fit into a reparative framework, especially in connection with a more sensible mitigation policy. As extreme as this renegotiation of state sovereignty and citizenship may seem, it is nowhere near as extreme as the logical conclusion of the violent alternative of the status quo: mass hunger, armed conflict at the regional level, and widespread displacement.
Compared to the horrors of climate apartheid and colonialism, having more neighbors is a small price to pay.