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Clinton: World Needs Better Immigration Laws for Climate Change Refugees

Words by Akhila Vijayaraghavan
Energy & Environment

As part of the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton voiced his thoughts about global warming and climate refugees in a round-table discussion. Climate change will have an adverse effect on many people living in vulnerable areas, especially coastal regions. Island nations will be most severely hit, already hot countries will see an increase in drought and low-lying areas will be prone to more flooding.

Currently there is an international system in place that works to find these refugees new homes but as more and more of these incidences occur, the world will not be able to deal with mass exoduses. Bill Clinton thinks that there needs to be an overhaul of the current system to ensure that climate refugees are protected.

The Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) says that there are currently about 50 million climate refugees. In 2009, the Maldivian cabinet held a meeting underwater to highlight the issue of rising sea-levels. That same year, in the Sundarbans, an island called Lohachara disappeared beneath the waters of the Bay of Bengal. The low-lying Sundarbans are home to the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet as well as the Bengal tiger.

Lohachara Island was the world’s first populated island to be lost to climate change and its disappearance left more than 7,000 people homeless. Neighbouring Ghorama has lost a third of its land mass in the last five years. To the north, Sagar, the largest of India’s Sundarbans islands, already houses 20,000 refugees from the tides. The influx of displaced people is swamping the original inhabitants of Sagar, putting pressure on the island’s already fragile resources. Scientists believe the Ghorama islanders’ fate is being sealed 2,000km away, at the source of the Ganges, where the Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than ever before and the islands are bearing the brunt. Can you imagine the feeling of literally watching your land sink beneath your feet?

The Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea are the world's first entire community to be displaced by climate change. The island is predicted to be completely underwater by 2015. The entire community is comprised of 2000 people but their final journey represents a loss of a way of life and home.

Clinton reckons that these incidences are going to keep growing and nations are going to have to cope with it. He says that immigration laws have to be rethought and he proposes a change from the current system that should be led by nations who resettle the most refugees. Unfortunately refugee welfare is not on the agenda of many countries when most of the world is entrenched in financial woes. However, unless systems are put in place now, the influx in the coming years will become difficult to handle.

"I think that in general we should become more open to immigration again," Clinton said. "Keeping people in limbo is a waste of human potential."

Having enjoyed environmentally expensive comforts thus far, richer countries should now lend a helping hand to the poorer nations, where the impact of climate change will be most heavily felt. Environmental refugees are the worse hit of all refugees because they can never return. Their land is lost forever and they have no place to go. Governments have no plan for these stricken people whose only fault was to live where they have been living for centuries.

Image Credit: Paul_Morse, Clinton Global Initiative via Flickr

Akhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

Read more stories by Akhila Vijayaraghavan