Puerto Rico hurricane

Seas are rising and many people forced to migrate in the Pacific islands, a fracking company takes a fancy to a drought stricken area, hurricanes cripple a whole country, walls and fences are built to block the free movement of people including climate migrants.

These were just some of the heartbreaking stories heard a climate impacted peoples side event at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. People from Asia Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean shared moving and sometimes personal stories on the changing climate and the impacts they and their communities face.

Hemantha Withanage from The Centre for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka said that Asia Pacific, home to 60% of the world’s population, is also the region with those people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Stella-Miria Robinson from Climate Frontlines Collective at Friends of the Earth Australia/Brisbane reminded us of the importance of story telling in indigenous culture, with a video touching on the realities of migrating to a new country because of rising sea levels. Culture, tradition and spirituality embedded in the home land are lost in the process of moving.

In explaining the realities for many Pacific island communities who stand to lose their homes, Robinson said,

“Australia is not a good neighbour. They do not care and are only concerned with their own agenda of wealth accumulation.”

She ended her story with a grim reminder that,

“we need to act together to change the situation, we need to act now. It will soon be too late, we will not have a planet home.”

Chief Joey Dearling from the KhoiSan tribe in the Karoo (meaning land of the drought) region of South Africa is the official rain caller in his community. In June 2017, he led his tribe in a traditional rain dance ceremony. Chief Dearling said, “No rains came, we lost all our cattle and we could not plant anymore. This means I failed my community.”

Chief Joey Dearling

Chief Joey Dearling

The KhoiSan tribe’s drought stricken area is now attracting fracking companies. 

“As a movement, we are against fracking. We call on the World Bank to stop giving money to destroy our precious land. Money divides communities and does not satisfy the needs of the people.”

Chief Dearling advocates sustainable development as an alternative.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico within a two week period in September. Irma knocked out power and Maria affected community water supplies. “It has been 60 days since our communities had any power or water, and food is running scarce,” said Katia Avilés-Vazquez from the Organización Boricuá De Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico. Vazquez has worked with under-represented communities for the past 25 years and her emotional story of the aftermath of the recent devastation in Puerto Rico left many in tears.

She said there is little infrastructure left in Puerto Rico and the government hoards resources instead of passing them on to the people who are in desperate need. Government propaganda has reported only 55 deaths yet, “Our government burnt more than 900 bodies and there are more than 100 bodies in the morgue right now.” She paid tribute to the people on the ground, the ‘real heroes’, who work round the clock.

“1.1 degree is already killing us.”

Vazquez called for urgent action. She also said that island debts must be wiped out after years of exploitation by the rich and the relentless  theft of resources. She ended saying,

“We are one Caribbean and we need to support each other. We must share our knowledge.”

Marina Sophia Flevotomas highlighted how refugees face walls and are unable to move freely to escape the harsh realities of famine, wars and rising sea levels at home.

“Those creating the walls are the ones causing the migration.”

She exposed developed countries for causing these migrations in the first place with their wealth, which is a total injustice.

Flevotomas made a clear distinction between refugees and climate migrants; refugees relocate with the hope of returning to their home land and climate migrants are internally displaced and can never return home once they are relocated.

Many people are in situations few of us can even imagine. Many are dying on their way to Europe and some before even reaching European borders. Huge investment is spent on militarizing these borders and when migrants do reach them, they are not welcomed.

“We have created a narrative of fear, that migrants are to be feared and should be barred from entering our countries. Developed countries have a responsibility to stop this injustice.”

Flevotomas ended with a powerful message,

“Walls are no solution and climate justice means no walls.”

There are still so many untold stories around the world.

“We need to build on these stories and make the connections. Our roots need to be stronger and we need to keep building the movement.”

Karin Nansen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Sadly, existing and pending mechanisms are ineffective in protecting the rights, safety, and dignity of climate impacted people, largely because they are voluntary guidance measures, not legally binding ones. Financial and other resources are also needed to truly protect impacted peoples. The governments of wealthy nations must stop siding with and aiding dirty energy industries, such as coal, oil, and gas, and take their fair share of responsibility. Developed countries  must also provide necessary resources, such as climate finance, to build resilience for impacted communities and persons, and redress loss and damage caused by climate change.

This calls for a fundamental system change to create real, fair and just solutions to save the world.

This article first appeared in an edited form on Common Dreams

Friends of the Earth APAC’s report on Just Solutions for Climate Migration in Asia Pacific

Justice for Asia’s Climate Refugees It’s time for governments to help those who have been displaced by a changing climate: APAC article published on the Diplomat