Three young women from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) came to shoot an interview with me last week for their website. I was interviewed by Rebecca Atwood, Executive Assistant at EJF, Tori Timms, Campaigner (who kindly supplied the bullet points below) and Sara Petrai, EJF Filmmaker.
Armed to the teeth with information, they spoke to me with such passion of the Climate Refugees they had met that no one who ever listens to them could doubt that we are in the throes of mounting disaster from climate change.
Some home truths from EJF: a summary of our discussion on the day:
- Not enough has been done to raise awareness on climate change. It is easy to take for granted that the basics of climate change are ‘general knowledge’, which isn’t the case. It isn’t only the public, but equally many politicians – even those working on climate change – who do not yet understand how the science works, let alone how it can affect people. Tackling this knowledge deficit is such an important part of what EJF does – producing free, objective, good quality information on issues in a way that everyone can understand, in a format that suits different tastes, cultures, ages. You shouldn’t need a degree and to pay a fortune to access the top science journals to get good information on climate change.
- In regards to skepticism on climate change; we need to take the time to explain to people that there is uncertainty about climate change, but that that uncertainty is not enough to warrant doing nothing. The computer models that we rely on to paint a picture of the future are excellent but they are only as good as the information we plug into them. It’s true to say that scientists do not yet fully understand atmospheric and oceanic dynamics. What these models do tell us, and what is supported by scientific records of past and present, is that it is very likely that our planet is changing because of human activities. Since industrialization, human activities have released more than 900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. CO2 levels are the highest they have been in 650,000 years. Even the most hardened skeptic has to admit that it is incredibly unlikely that this will not have an effect on the climate system.
- The fifty Least Developed Countries (LDCs) produce around 2% of annual, worldwide CO2 emissions. These countries are the least culpable for climate change, yet many of these are being first and worst affected by its effects. We absolutely need to hear their voices at international climate change negotiations. However, in practice, only about a quarter of observers at UNFCCC proceedings come from developing or undeveloped countries. One of the ways EJF works to tackle this massive disparity is by filming the testimonies of people who can’t be at these summits. These are people who have very real concerns, but will never have the opportunity to physically meet with international policy-makers or attend summits.
- Putting a ‘human face’ on climate change will help change how people react and respond to climate change. Climate change is having a brutal impact on the lives of some of the World’s poorest and most vulnerable people, EJF believes their voices should be heard. These people are articulate representatives of climate refugees – people forced from their homes and land by deteriorating environmental conditions associated with climate change. Our films are a means to give an international platform for the hopes and concerns of people who are actually living the reality of climate change.
- In 2010, an EJF team went to Bangladesh to investigate the effect that climate change is having on people living in Bangladesh. What we found was that climate change is very clearly denying rural communities their most basic human rights – such as the rights to water, food, shelter.
We encountered resilient, strong communities that don’t have the means to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change that are already apparent in the regions they live in. When violent storms hit, floods destroy their homes, the open ponds they rely on for water start to become salty or their crops start to fail, this takes their toll on them, their family’s health, and their livelihoods. Some lose everything they need to survive. These are some of the world’s poorest people, and they are being pushed deeper into poverty.
Many of those we interviewed had lived in these areas for generations, and now their families have been pushed beyond the brink by the negative impacts of climate change. They have no choice but to move. Their destination is often determined by their financial capacity and social connections. Very few choose to move internationally; they do not even want to leave their homes. The climate refugees EJF spoke to chose to move to the nearest cities, many will ultimately move to slums. This exposes them to a whole new set of issues, while rapid and unplanned rural-to-urban migration can create huge pressures on city infrastructure and services.
Unlike refugees fleeing persecution, climate refugees are not legally recognized. There is no legislation, agency or institution specifically mandated for their protection and assistance. No existing frameworks or institutions in the domain of migration, displacement or climate change precisely and definitively address the issue of climate refugees, and no international institution has a clear mandate to serve the populations which need human rights protection and humanitarian assistance. For these reasons, EJF is working to secure a new, legally-binding instrument that gives them official recognition and secures their protection and assistance. (A new EJF report summarizing our findings in Bangladesh will be launched within the next few months.)
- We can’t rest on our laurels on climate change. It’s a bigger problem than man has encountered before so we need to be adaptable and smart in how we respond to this threat. Everyone can make a difference. NGOs, governments and industry need to inspire more than just people opening up their wallets. This needs to be about changing the way people think, vote and buy. EJF’s No Place like Home campaign (http://www.ejfoundation.org/page578.html) is working to be a part of this.
- Climate change is more than just an ‘environmental’ issue – it has major implications for human rights, development, environment, migration and the global economy. EJF advocates that governments and international institutions need to systematically link their policies and decision-making with climate change. We believe this is genuinely the only way we can achieve sustainable development.
EJF short films can be streamed from our website: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page592.html
You can download EJF reports and briefings here: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page590.html