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Canada Urged to Prepare for ‘Climate Migrants’ in Warming World: New Report

In a sign of things to come, a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says Ottawa should create a new “climate migrants” immigration class to prepare for the inflow of people fleeing extreme climate change.

“Estimates of the number of climate-influenced migrants range widely, but most projections agree that in the coming years climate change will compel hundreds of millions of people to relocate,” the report says. “Climate change is one factor that interacts with many others to drive population movements."

Many countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than Canada, said the 26-page report — Preparing BC for Climate Migration — published last week

“Industrialized countries like Canada have disproportionately benefitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, whereas others who have contributed least to climate change will disproportionately feel its impacts,” the report states.

Canada is the fourth highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world according to 2008 World Resources Institute climate data (this estimate does not take into account emissions resulting from the burning of exported coal, oil and gas).

Report co-author Tim Takaro, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, said Canada has a moral responsibility to people who migrate due to climate change — not just as a matter of charity or generosity, but of justice and reparation as well.

“The federal and provincial governments, rather than ignoring the issue, should develop a comprehensive policy framework to manage climate migration,” Takaro said.

The world is already witnessing the impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods, the report says.

Global damage from climate change itself and fossil fuel development is estimated at $1.2 trillion per year, or 1.6 per cent of world GDP in 2010, and is projected to rise to 3.2 per cent in 2030.

Canada has acted to thwart international negotiations on climate change, and has not supported UN-sponsored measures that would provide financial assistance to countries affected by global warming.

Canada admits about 250,000 immigrants of all classes per year, the report said, a number that has changed little since the early 1990s. New permanent residents span three major categories: family class (spouses and other family of Canadian citizens and permanent residents), economic immigrants (workers and business immigrants) and refugees.

The number of refugees has dropped from more than 50,000 in each of 1991 and 1992 to fewer than 25,000 per year since 2008, the report says. Refugees constituted 23 per cent of new immigrants to Canada in 1991, but that number had fallen to nine per cent by 2012. In contrast, about two-thirds of immigrants are now from the economic immigrant category. Most of these are skilled workers and their families, while another group includes “investor” immigrants and their families.

“While there is scope for climate migrants to be accepted under this existing framework of law, greater clarity and certainty could be provided by creating a new immigration class of ‘climate migrant’ along with targets and programs to ensure Canada lives up to its moral responsibilities,” said the report.

Key settlement services should be made accessible to climate migrants, the report recommended, adding more funding should also be allocated to reduce strain on these already-overloaded systems and to allow increased migration.

“Given that most climate migrants will remain in the Global South, Canada should substantially increase its support to developing countries shouldering the burden of climate displacement,” the report added.

“Canada owes a ‘climate debt’ to the nations bearing the greatest impacts, including countries that will assist and settle climate migrants.”

Image Credit: Villagers wade through floodwater in Bihar, India in 2008. Photo by Balazs Gardi via Flickr.

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