Seas rise in the Pacific islands, forcing people to leave their homes. A fracking company takes a fancy to a drought stricken area in South Africa. Hurricanes cripple entire countries. Walls and fences are built to block the free movement of people, including climate migrants.
These were just some of the heartbreaking stories we heard at a climate impacted peoples' side event at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. People from the Asia Pacific region, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean shared moving and personal stories.
Hemantha Withanage from the Center for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka said that Asia Pacific, home to 60 percent of the world's population, is also the most vulnerable region to impacts of climate change given its low-lying coastal regions.
Stella-Miria Robinson from Climate Frontlines Collective at Friends of the Earth Australia/Brisbane reminded us of the importance of storytelling in indigenous culture, with a video touching on the realities of migrating to a new country because of rising sea levels. Culture, tradition, and spirituality embedded in the homeland are lost in the process of moving.
In explaining the realities for many Pacific island communities who stand to lose their homes, Robinson said: "Australia is not a good neighbor. They do not care and are only concerned with their own agenda of wealth accumulation." She ended her story with a grim reminder that "we need to act together to change the situation, we need to act now. It will soon be too late, we will not have a planet home."
Chief Joey Dearling from the KhoiSan tribe in the Karoo (meaning 'land of the drought') region of South Africa is the official rain caller in his community. In June 2017, he led his tribe in a traditional rain dance ceremony. Chief Dearling said: "No rains came, we lost all our cattle and we could not plant anymore. This means I failed my community."
The KhoiSan tribe's drought stricken area is now attracting fracking companies. Chief Dearling said: "As a movement, we are against fracking. We call on the World Bank to stop giving money to destroy our precious land. Money divides communities and does not satisfy the needs of the people." He advocates for sustainable development as an alternative.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico within a two-week period in September this year. Irma knocked out power and Maria affected community water supplies. "It has been 60 days since our communities had any power or water, and food is running scarce," said Katia Avilés-Vazquez from the Organización Boricuá De Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico.
Vasquez has worked with under-represented communities for the past 25 years and her emotional story of the aftermath of the recent devastation in Puerto Rico left many in tears. She said there is little infrastructure left in Puerto Rico and the government hoards resources instead of passing them on to the people who are in desperate need. Government propaganda has reported only 55 deaths so far, yet "our government burnt more than 900 bodies and there are more than 100 bodies in the morgue right now." She paid tribute to the people on the ground, the 'real heroes,' who work around the clock.
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Vasquez called for urgent action. "1.1 degree [global warming] is already killing us," she said. She also said that island debts must be cancelled after years of exploitation by the rich and the relentless theft of resources. She ended saying: "We are one Caribbean and we need to support each other. We must share our knowledge."
Marina Sophia Flevotomas highlighted how refugees face walls and are unable to move freely to escape the harsh realities of famine, wars and rising sea levels at home. "Those creating the walls are the ones causing the migration," she said. She exposed developed countries for causing these migrations in the first place.
Flevotomas made a clear distinction between refugees and climate migrants: refugees relocate with the hope of returning to their home land, and climate migrants are internally displaced and can never return home once they are relocated. Many people are in situations few of us can even imagine. Many are dying on their way to Europe, and some before even reaching European borders. Huge investment is spent on militarizing these borders and when migrants do reach them, they are not welcomed.
"We have created a narrative of fear, that migrants are to be feared and should be barred from entering our countries. Developed countries have a responsibility to stop this injustice," Flevotomas said. She ended with a powerful message: "Walls are no solution and climate justice means no walls."
There are still so many untold stories around the world. "We need to build on these stories and make the connections. Our roots need to be stronger and we need to keep building the movement [for climate justice]," said Karin Nansen, chair of Friends of the Earth International.
Sadly, existing and pending mechanisms are ineffective in protecting the rights, safety, and dignity of climate impacted people, largely because they are voluntary guidance measures, not legally binding ones. Financial and other resources are also needed to truly protect impacted peoples. The governments of wealthy nations must stop siding with and aiding dirty energy industries, such as coal, oil, and gas, and take their fair share of responsibility. Developed countries must also provide necessary resources, such as climate finance, to build resilience for impacted communities and persons, and redress loss and damage caused by climate change.
This calls for a fundamental system change to create real, fair and just solutions to save the world.
A new report titled Call for Just Solutions for Climate Induced Migration in the Asia Pacific by Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific is now available here.