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Will world leaders at COP26 resolve the refugee crisis?

October 8, 2021 at 8:19 am

Afghan refugee girls watch a soccer match near where they are staying in the Village at the Ft. McCoy U.S. Army base on 30 September 2021 in Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin. [Barbara Davidson/Getty Images]

Climate change in Afghanistan has not only fuelled conflict, it has also provoked a major refugee crisis. Most of Afghanistan is dry and hot for much of the year, and from 1950 to 2010, the landlocked country warmed 1.8 degrees Celsius — about twice the global average, but it is only responsible for a tiny fraction of greenhouse gas emissions. Combating these emissions requires taking action and huge investment in technology and infrastructure. In August, severe floods resulted in a death toll of over 100, with hundreds of homes destroyed.

What is the main reason for these natural disasters?

Instead of tackling this problem, governments across the region have one by one shut their borders and tried to block the entry of fleeing refugees.

Afghan refugees, however, are not the cause of the crisis. Richer nations are the ones doing the most damage in terms of CO2 emissions and biodiversity destruction by means of their lifestyles. Their sale of weapons to fuel conflicts in war-torn countries like Afghanistan has also contributed to mass displacement of civilian polupulations.

One study estimates that climate change could push 1.5 billion people to migrate by 2050. In this contexct various analysts have tried to put numbers on future flows of climate migrants often referred to as “climate refugees.” The most widely repeated prediction is that there will at least 200 million such refugees by 2050.

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The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow for 12 days from 31 October and highlight how climate change triggers a refugee crisis. While participants worry about the cost of renting pavilions at COP26, as it is considerably higher than it was at COP25 in Madrid, observers and activists are asking whether the world leaders will really use the occasion to tackle the global refugee crisis.

Police Scotland mounted officers patrol near the SSE Hydro venue in Glasgow on October 4, 2021 as the city prepares to host the COP26 UN Climate Summit in November. [ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images]

Police Scotland mounted officers patrol near the SSE Hydro venue in Glasgow on October 4, 2021 as the city prepares to host the COP26 UN Climate Summit in November. [ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images]

Despite decades of warnings from some researchers, the climate refugees are not recognised under the law and they are not entitled to any rights in foreign states. The dangers facing climate refugees have been overlooked for decades. The last refugee convention was signed in 1951 by the United Nations after 70,000-80,000 Jewish refugees were accepted into Britain. Therefore, COP26 must produce strong solutions on climate refugees. Yet, there may be a lack of international political will to find a solution for the future flow of climate refugees.

There will be promises of big action on lowering carbon emissions and combating climate change. Instead of showing off their countries in the pavilions by producing symbolic statements and little else, the lawmakers and leaders should touch upon the many important issues – such as climate migration – that need urgent attention.

In this regard, the UK, as the host country, has a huge responsibility. The UK should recognise that it has a key opportunity to point out the lack of protection for climate refugees. Alok Sharma resigned from his role as UK business minister in order to lead the United Nations COP26 climate change summit in February. In June, during the UN conference, he said “he is cognisant of climate change migration.” He and his team should therefore recognise that there has been no progress since COP21 on climate refugees and Glasgow will be an opportunity to protect climate refugees by arranging a new constitution for people who have to flee from their homelands due to natural catastrophes caused by such changes.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.