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Notes from the UN - May 2016

Migration, Environment and Climate Change at the UN by Frank McCann, CSJP-A


On May 9, the UN held a meeting on “Migration, Environment and Climate Change,” organized by the missions of Bangladesh and France. Presentations were given by five different nation state or organizational partners. Given some of our Congregation’s recent events, the meeting held a lot of interest for us.

The first takeaway was the desire by UN officials to avoid use of the terms “climate change,” or “environmental refugees.” The preferred term is “environmental migrants.” According to the UN’s legal definition of the term refugee, there must be some form of provable persecution. The UN wants to reserve the use of the term refugees to those who fit the established definitions. The UN is negotiating with many nations to fulfill their obligations to refugees under the UN Convention on Refugees. They hope to avoid backlash among nations that might be caused by adding those induced or forced to migrate due to environmental factors to the already large number of refugees.

They emphasized that migration due to sea rise, ocean acidification, droughts and increasingly intense storms is not a future worry but a present reality. Five of the Solomon Islands have already been submerged. Rice paddies in Vietnam are flooded with sea water and the cattle are dying. Small island nations are negotiating to buy land from countries with higher elevations so they can safely and smoothly relocate their people, agriculture and industries. Even within island nations movement is difficult and requires adaptation of languages, customs and land use.  Despite the difficulties it is hoped that good planning can help achieve a gradual movement of people as all nations adapt to the changing climate. This will require global solidarity to which we can contribute.

Some are not able to plan ahead for their movement. Over the last eight years, the UN reports that on average 26 million persons each year are displaced for short or long terms by natural disasters such as ocean storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, etc. There is concern that this number may grow.

This meeting coordinated with two other events, the release the week before of the Secretary General’s report entitled: “In safety and dignity: addressing large movements of refugees and migrants,” and a General Assembly summit to be held at the UN on Sept. 19 to address large migrations.

Notes from the UN - May 2016

Photo by Greenpeace.
Anjana Koyal lives in Satjellia island, India
and is one of the many people affected by
sea level rise. 'I am a student and my school
is flooded with water."

"We must be signs of hope and healing in the midst of the cultural reality in which we find ourselves."

Ann Rutan, CSJP