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A Haitian migrant climbs the Mexico-US border fence near the El Paso border crossing, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico on April 15, 2021. (Photo: HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

A migrant climbs the Mexico-U.S. border fence near the El Paso crossing in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on April 15, 2021. (Photo: Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images)

Worst Polluters Spending Over Two Times More on Border Militarization Than on Climate Action

"Maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

Kenny Stancil

As the climate emergency wreaks havoc and displaces growing numbers of vulnerable people around the globe, the world's richest countries and biggest greenhouse gas emitters are responding in a dangerous manner—by prioritizing border militarization over efforts to mitigate fossil fuel pollution and adapt to a hotter planet.

"This militarization of borders is partly rooted in national climate security strategies that since the early 2000s have overwhelmingly painted migrants as 'threats' rather than victims of injustice."

That's according to Global Climate Wall, a new report published Monday by the Transnational Institute, which finds that rather than addressing the root causes of the climate crisis that is forcing millions of people from their homes, the world's wealthiest nations are investing more in violently repressing migrants.

Although "this is a global trend," the report focuses on the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia. Those seven high-income countries—responsible for 48% of the world's historic GHG emissions—spent an average of 2.3 times as much on arming their borders ($33.1 billion) as on climate finance ($14.4 billion) from 2013 to 2018. 

When it comes to the ratio of spending on border militarization versus climate finance, the report spotlights the three worst offenders: "Canada spent 15 times more ($1.5 billion compared to around $100 million); Australia 13 times more ($2.7 billion compared to $200 million); [and] the U.S. almost 11 times more ($19.6 billion compared to $1.8 billion)."

Wealthy nations "have built a 'Climate Wall' to keep out the consequences of climate change" through "two distinct but related dynamics," the report explains:

First, a failure to provide the promised climate finance that could help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; and second, a militarized response to migration that expands border and surveillance infrastructure. This provides booming profits for a border security industry but untold suffering for refugees and migrants who make increasingly dangerous—and frequently deadly—journeys to seek safety in a climate-changed world.

"Climate finance could help mitigate the impacts of climate change and help countries adapt to this reality, including supporting people who need to relocate or to migrate abroad," the authors write. "Yet the richest countries have failed even to keep their pledges of [a] meager $100 billion a year in climate finance."

At the same time, "border spending by the seven biggest GHG emitters rose by 29% between 2013 and 2018," states the report. "In the U.S., spending on border and immigration enforcement tripled between 2003 and 2021. In Europe, the budget for the European Union (E.U.) border agency, Frontex, has increased by a whopping 2,763% since its founding in 2006 up to 2021."

Denouncing the fact that "the richest countries offer only walls" as "more and more people are being displaced by the consequences of climate change," the Transnational Institute looked ahead to COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference that begins Sunday, and stressed that "migrant justice must be at the negotiating table!"

Climate-induced migration—which "is now a reality" that "takes place disproportionately in low-income countries" and is "shaped by the systemic injustice that creates the situations of vulnerability, violence, precarity, and weak social structures"—can stem from singular catastrophic events, such as extreme weather disasters, as well as from the "cumulative impacts" of drought, sea-level rise, or other deleterious environmental conditions that "gradually make an area uninhabitable," the report notes.

While most displaced people in the world today remain in their own country, many cross international borders, the authors point out, and that phenomenon is expected to become more common this century as the impacts of the climate crisis grow more severe, leading to an increase in the global refugee population.

Despite such projections—and in addition to refusing to pursue adequate decarbonization plans and offering paltry sums of funding to help impoverished nations deal with worsening conditions—rich countries most responsible for the intensification of extreme weather are fortifying their borders to keep out vulnerable migrants who are the least culpable, rather than taking steps to aid climate refugees.

Moreover, the report finds that the "border security industry," which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry driving the climate emergency, is already profiteering from wealthy countries' repressive responses:

  • This militarization of borders is partly rooted in national climate security strategies that since the early 2000s have overwhelmingly painted migrants as "threats" rather than victims of injustice. The border security industry has helped promote this process through well-oiled political lobbying, leading to ever more contracts for the border industry and increasingly hostile environments for refugees and migrants;
  • The border security industry is already profiting from the increased spending on border and immigration enforcement and expects even more profits from anticipated instability due to climate change. A 2019 forecast by ResearchAndMarkets.com predicted that the Global Homeland Security and Public Safety Market would grow from $431 billion in 2018 to $606 billion in 2024, with a 5.8% annual growth rate. According to the report, one factor driving this is "climate warming-related natural disasters growth"; and
  • Top border contractors boast of the potential to increase their revenue from climate change. Raytheon says "demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change." Cobham, a British company that markets surveillance systems and is one of the main contractors for Australia's border security, says that "changes to countries [sic] resources and habitability could increase the need for border surveillance due to population migration."

"This nexus of power, wealth, and collusion between fossil fuel firms and the border security industry shows how climate inaction and militarized responses to its consequences increasingly work hand in hand," the authors write. "Both industries profit as ever more resources are diverted towards dealing with the consequences of climate change rather than tackling its root causes."

"Government spending is a political choice, meaning that different choices are possible."

"This comes at a terrible human cost," they add. "It can be seen in the rising death toll of refugees, deplorable conditions in many refugee camps and detention centers, violent pushbacks from European countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean, and from the U.S., in countless cases of unnecessary suffering and brutality."

Calling the report's findings "very grim," Patrick Bigger, a senior policy fellow at the Climate + Community Project, tweeted, "This is how [to] get climate apartheid and why solidarity must be central to climate policy."

That sentiment was echoed by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who tweeted that "maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

In a video address shared by the Transnational Institute, McKibben explained why it is impossible for wealthy nations to "stop climate change with guns."

"The prioritization of militarized borders over climate finance ultimately threatens to worsen the climate crisis for humanity," the authors of the report explain. "Without sufficient investment to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, the crisis will wreak even more human devastation and uproot more lives."

However, they continue, "government spending is a political choice, meaning that different choices are possible. Investing in climate mitigation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries can support a transition to clean energy—and, alongside deep emission cuts by the biggest polluting nations—give the world a chance to keep temperatures below [a] 1.5°C increase since 1850."

"Supporting people forced to leave their homes with the resources and infrastructure to rebuild their lives in new locations can help them adapt to climate change and to live in dignity," says the report.

"Migration, if adequately supported, can be an important means of climate adaptation," the report adds. "Treating migration positively requires a change of direction and greatly increased climate finance, good public policy, and international cooperation, but most importantly it is the only morally just path to support those suffering a crisis they played no part in creating."


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