Prepare for Climate Migrants

Canada must prepare for the wave of climate migrants about to arrive at our door. As people are displaced globally and driven off their land by rising water, desertification, loss of arable land, programs and infrastructure need to be in place to receive them.

Preparation is urgent. There’s enough CO2 in our atmosphere now to seriously alter global climate.

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Canada needs immigrants, not only to sustain our economy but to serve future needs. Climate migrants represent an opportunity to fill those needs. While global warming is a catastrophe, parts of northern Canada will become more habitable.

I don’t mean to suggest that Canada will benefit from climate change. No one benefits from a disaster that will stress the existence of all species, including our own.

Climate migrants are already close to home. In one case, the entire population of the village of Newtok, Alaska, is being forced to relocate because shoreline erosion has rendered the area uninhabitable.

Aboriginal people now live on large parts of these northern un-ceded lands that will support greater populations. Native leaders will play a major part in the settlement and integration of newcomers to these areas.

For those who don’t want immigrants for whatever reason, who think we can close our borders to “foreigners” if we wish, think again.

The U.S. has put more money than we ever could into trying to close their border with Mexico with mixed results. We could never stop climate migrants from pouring over our southern border even if we wanted to. They won’t be just U.S. citizens. As the U.S. has learned, they flood northward from all of Central America.

Xenophobia aside, we need to prepare for the opportunities and challenges that climate migrants represent. The Canadian Centre of Policy Chances has identified existing legislation to accommodate climate migrants:

“There are three existing areas of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that could be used to accommodate climate migrants. First, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration may temporarily suspend removal orders for people who become displaced while in Canada. This occurred for Haitian visitors following the 2010 earthquake. Second, climate migrants could be granted permanent residency on ‘humanitarian and compassionate grounds’. Third, refugees situated outside of Canada may apply to immigrate if sponsored by certain private groups.”

Climate change is not something that is going to happen. It’s happening now, and so is the cost of climate change. Global damage from climate change and fossil fuel development was estimated at $1.2 trillion in 2010, or 1.6 per cent of world GDP, and is projected to rise to 3.2 per cent by 2030 warns the CCPA in a report prepared in cooperation with UBC titled Preparing BC for Climate Migration.

“The world is already witnessing severe impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods. Over the past several years alone, the severity of extreme weather events impacted millions of lives. In some cases, changes in climate will induce permanent or temporary displacements, and the forced movement of people will only increase over the coming decades.”

If we start now, programs can be in place to integrate climate migrants smoothly so they become productive and live fulfilled lives as Canadians.

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