Climate crisis, displacement and solidarity

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On 30 March, the Holy See engaged with an important aspect of displacement with the publication of its ‘Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People’. The document, approved by Pope Francis, was produced by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, a Vatican department established by Francis that works on both migration and environmental matters.

Main image: Pope Francis (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk/Flickr)

The intersection between climate change and human displacement is a still emerging area of concern. Nevertheless, we know that climate change is already a factor in various forms of human mobility, ranging from relatively voluntary migration to compulsory resettlement to temporary or permanent displacement, either internal or international.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group 2 noted that climate change affects human mobility through a range of slow and rapid onset impacts, including floods, droughts and sea-level rise. The Asia-Pacific is forecast to be especially hard hit, due to its large population and prevalence of disasters. In 2019, the countries that suffered the greatest displacement due to disasters were all in Asia (India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and China).

In recent years, international organisations have urged more focus on this growing challenge. The World Bank recently highlighted an ‘urgent need for countries to integrate climate migration into national development plans’, while the Asian Development Bank warned that ‘policy responses and normative frameworks that address climate-induced migration remain scattered and highly inadequate’. 

‘Pastoral Orientations’ addresses the difficulties faced by climate displaced people (CDP) by focusing on ten challenges and associated responses suggested for the Catholic Church. The intended audience includes Bishops’ Conferences, local churches, Catholic organisations and laypeople who may be involved in ‘effective assistance’ for CDP. The purpose of the document is practical, to set out ‘markers for a roadmap in pastoral planning for CDP’, and specific actions are suggested to this effect. 

The ten challenges begin with vision: not in the sense of foresight, but rather the act of seeing and acknowledging. Too often displaced persons have been out of sight, out of mind, while the climate crisis remains ignored in too many quarters. As Pope Francis paraphrases Hamlet in the preface, ‘To see or not to see, that is the question!’ The document opens with a call for acknowledging climate displacement and for promoting awareness and outreach.

Next, the document addresses pastoral care at different stages of displacement: providing viable alternatives to displacement (where possible), preparing people for displacement, fostering inclusion and integration in the place of immigration and extending pastoral care. The suggested responses are not about imposing ‘solutions’ on the displaced. Rather, the document repeatedly stresses the need to empower CDP and to ‘recognize the wisdom that comes from the poor”’. Other sections of Pastoral Orientations deal with governance or capacity challenges: influencing policy making, promoting cooperation in planning and action, promoting professional training and fostering academic research.

 

'These papers will illustrate that, with some notable exceptions, the work of developing norms and processes capable of addressing these challenges remains before us.'

 

Displacement related to climate change and broader questions of environmental mobility are now on the agenda of many international and national decision makers, but the crafting of effective responses has only just begun. In a forthcoming set of papers from The New School for Social Research in New York, we examine the governance of environmental mobility in a number of regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These papers will illustrate that, with some notable exceptions, the work of developing norms and processes capable of addressing these challenges remains before us. 

‘Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People’ is a valuable contribution to this urgent undertaking. Refreshingly, the document also dispenses with diplomatic language with its call to ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate those whom the climate crisis has robbed, injured and abandoned’. This is a call that deserves to be heard and acted upon by the widest possible audience.

 

 

Stephen MinasStephen Minas is associate professor of law at Peking University and senior research fellow at the Transnational Law Institute, King’s College London, where Stephen completed a PhD in law. Stephen has worked on climate issues in various capacities in domestic and international processes. He is an alumnus of Newman College.

Main image: Pope Francis (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk/Flickr)

Topic tags: Stephen Minas, climate crisis, Pope Francis, CDP, Pastoral Orientations on Climate People

 

 

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Climate change is just one factor in the attempted migration of countless souls from the Third World to the West but it is a very important one and it does impact on other areas as well. I suspect some lands in Sub-Saharan Africa may well be unfarmable due to prolonged drought. Bangladesh, which is basically the floodplains of the Ganges, could well disappear beneath the sea. President Biden seems to being compassionate about refugees. Perhaps he is a realist.
Edward Fido | 06 May 2021


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