Global Divestment Day: Climate Justice for Environmental Refugees

By Joshua Miguel Makalintal (FYEG, Junge Grüne)

13-14 February marks the world’s first Global Divestment Day. Climate movements worldwide have participated in this weekend’s fight to urge governments and investors to radically divest from fossil fuels. There is no doubt that we are experiencing an unprecedented climate change that threatens the future of the planet and its inhabitants. And it is imperative that we begin to conduct massive changes in our political and economic structures.

One of these changes include cutting subsidies to fossil fuels entirely. Burning fossil fuels produces billions and billions of metric tons of CO2 annually, which contributes to global warming. Reducing these greenhouse gas emissions by divesting means a green alternative future for us; one with hope.

It also means safeguarding environmental justice for frontline communities; communities that are mostly living below the poverty line and yet carry the huge burden of going through the brunt impacts of the interrelated crises of the environment and the economy. They are the ones first victimized by the catastrophic forces of the climate. Super-storms and rising sea levels have wiped out some of the planet’s island-nations. And the inhabitants of these places have no choice but to relocate to avoid their lives from being wiped out too.

These people being forced to flee by nature are at the forefront of the impacts of human-induced climate change. And it is our duty to stand with them not only in their struggle to cope with these changes but also with their fight against the actors and institutions who are knowingly condoning environmentally destructive measures.

Indeed forced displacements influenced by natural disasters have already ensued, and the worse has yet to come. The Environmental Justice Foundation has warned that global warming would generate over 150 million climate refugees by 2050, which would amount to 10% of the global population.

Last August, a New Zealand court issued a landmark ruling that granted the residency claim of a family from the Pacific island-nation of Tuvalu. Though the application was the first successful one to be accepted on humanitarian and environmental grounds, the decision wouldn’t set much of a precedent, according to the New Zealand Herald. This is due to the fact that the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees does not recognize persons fleeing climate disasters as legitimate refugees.

For that reason, there is an urgent need to pressure governments to enact policies that will recognize climate refugees as genuine refugees. At an international level, it is vital that the global community begin to take a stand on this issue and promote the reform of the UN convention to expand the definition of what a refugee is.

And they must take a stand, because the effects of climate change know no bounds. Experts estimate that sea-levels may rise up to 120cm by the end of the 21st century. 1/3 of coastal countries have more than 10% of their national land within 5m of sea level. Nations who are likely to lose a significant portion of their land are mostly island-countries and archipelagos in the Pacific. But bigger countries will also endure, and this includes coastal countries in Africa that are currently strained by ongoing domestic conflicts. They will soon suffer the consequences of the change in climate and will cause large-scale migrations.

Such movements on an unprecedented scale would worsen the current refugee crisis Europe is already facing. Civil societies have criticized the EU for their questionable measures on handling the crisis, which has resulted to the devastating loss of countless of human lives. If Europe fails to enact humane and sustainable migration policies, then the next few decades would pose a serious challenge to the region. It is the collective responsibility of the international community, including Europe, to start recognizing this threat and take deterrent measures to prevent another crisis whilst prioritizing people before borders.

We are the contributors of this humanitarian and environmental crisis. Our negligence has cost us a lot and has made it hard for us to achieve a sustainable planet that will support future generations. This is a moral issue with detrimental consequences if it remains unsolved. We need to start establishing real solutions in achieving climate justice, and this may include hurting some of the biggest players of the current neoliberal economic system. Indeed, saving the planet will have collateral damage, but inaction will produce something worse, not only to the economy but to society as a whole.

Featured image courtesy of