Ladies and gentlemen,
I should first of all like to thank you for the invitation to this evening talk on the future of international climate policies.
The US announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has placed the rest of the world in a state of shock. The subsequent reactions to this unexpected decision show that climate change is an issue of great concern.
The previous speakers have already touched upon the making of the Paris Agreement and the lengthy and difficult negotiations it took. It is currently not possible to predict the consequences of the announced US withdrawal. I sincerely hope that the international community will continue its efforts because climate change affects us all. Tonight, I want to talk about an indirect effect of global warming, which – in my opinion – has been underestimated for too long: climate change induced migration.
For quite some time now, researchers have pointed out the correlation between climate change and the displacement of people. Populations in the global south are particularly affected by water shortage, sea level crisis, and deteriorating pasture land. The number of climate change migrants (or climate change refugees) is predicted to be 150 million by 2050. Excessive migration to one specific region or country can have a vast domestic impact by increasing pressure on urban infrastructure and services, by undermining economic growth, and by increasing potential for social tensions. Although this indirect effect of climate change is hardly new, it has been ignored too long by decision makers.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns about climate change induced migration. However, until now there is no international law protecting the rights of persons displaced across borders in the context of climate change. Only someone who fled his home due to persecution by the state for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion is considered a legal refugee. UNHCR has no inclination to expand the Refugee Convention to include climate migrants because it might reduce protection for the conventional political refugees.
In 2015, European countries found themselves in an unfamiliar situation; they had to make substantial efforts to cope with large migrant streams. We all remember the media’s coverage of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. While most of the displaced people were fleeing their home countries because of war and political conflicts, some were searching for jobs and looking for a better future. And let us not forget that the Syrian conflict was preceded by a five-year drought. Land degradation, deforestation, and water scarcity are major factors for the displacement of people. But in addition, climate change exacerbates political conflicts.
The member states of the European Union still struggle with their role as destination countries for refugees. They learned first-hand about the economic and logistical challenges tied to big migrant waves, but also about issues of public security and social tensions. We have witnessed the emergence of populist political movements all over Europe and similar developments have taken place in the US. Some years ago, no one would have expected these populist political movements to grow significantly but recent events have taught us some caution.
Ladies and gentlemen, climate change induced migration is a fact and the displacement of people will increase as global warming and its impacts continue.
The mentioning of forced displacement in the Paris Agreement was a first step towards acknowledging the complex link. However, in order to cope with global warming, a long-term strategy and collective effort are necessary. The involvement of the biggest economies is critical to the successful implementation of programs aiming for a noticeable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the transatlantic cooperation is key to tackling climate change. Both, the US and Germany, need to address the opportunities surrounding sustainable energy, mobilize stakeholders and set up the right incentives. At the same time, emerging economies will not be able to face the challenges without assistance in form of technical expertise and financial support.
The international community should not waste time negotiating another climate deal. Instead, let the year 2017 mark the beginning of the road to climate-neutrality.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope these brief remarks have added a new perspective to this evening talk. I am now looking forward to a fruitful discussion with you.
Thank you for your attention.