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Climate Crisis: Why migrant justice is now more important than ever

As the horrors of the climate crisis become a reality, the Tories have responded by moving more to the right – creating a hostile environment and turning away people seeking safety

The climate crisis is officially here. Last week, the record for the UK’s hottest day was shot through with temperatures pushing past 40 degrees. Motorways became fire fields, the London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since World War Two, and the Met Office issued its first-ever Red Extreme Emergency weather warning. Meanwhile, forest fires erupted across Europe in Spain and Greece and warnings of a heat apocalypse in Western France forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Europe is on fire, and we should all wake up to what this means – for ourselves, and our counterparts worldwide. 

Gone are the days where we could watch from afar as climate emergencies wreaked havoc in the Global South. It was only February when Storm Franklin was the third severe storm in the space of one week and flooded houses across Shropshire and Worcestershire, with hundreds of people forced to be evacuated. Our country is not prepared to deal with extreme weather, yet climate emergencies are now in our living rooms, on our doorsteps and on our motorways. As we come to terms with extreme weather being in our households – not just on our screens – we must remember that people in the Global South have been on the frontlines of this crisis, facing extreme heat and storms for decades. 

In Iran, it recently hit 52 degrees – the hottest temperature ever recorded, while Bangladesh has faced months of extreme flooding leading to thousands of people losing their homes and loved ones. The cruellest reality of the crisis is that those who are least responsible for climate breakdown in the Global South are most affected – the richest one per cent cause double the carbon emissions of the poorest 3.1 billion (Kylie Jenner’s reported three-minute private jet journey comes to mind), but it is the world’s poorest who are now being pushed to leave their homes because of drought, flooding and deforestation. This is a crisis caused by colonial-era exploitation of land and people, and our continued resource extraction of the Global South. Racism is embedded in the climate crisis, as people in the Global South are now suffering the devastating impact of colonialism and capitalism that the Global North has profited from. And as large swathes of our planet become unliveable, people are being forced to move.  

But sadly, as the horrors of the climate crisis become reality, we are seeing this government turn away people seeking safety here, and embrace the politics of the far-right – trying to send refugees to Rwanda, locking more and more people up in asylum camps, and breaking their climate pledges. They could be funding the green solutions we need to survive and thrive, but instead they’re failing to fund renewables, and stoking hatred towards people fleeing war – as if they were responsible for our problems instead of the politicians and billionaires profiting from climate destruction. By rejecting a green new deal and fair immigration policies, this government are effectively making the situation worse for all of us, including our counterparts in the Global South. 

Even if the global temperature rise is limited to 1.5°C by the end of the century, 30 to 60 million people are projected to live in hot areas where the average heat in the hottest month is likely to be too high for a human body to function. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “this is code red for humanity”. There’s no time left for more broken climate promises. We must prevent further climate devastation. New oil and gas projects like Jackdaw in the North Sea must be stopped. But we also need to adapt fast, and that means expecting more migration, demanding justice for migrants, and welcoming those forced to move. A whole 13 years ago the current UN Secretary-General warned that climate change could be the biggest driver of displacement. Yet after the Earth’s hottest decade on record, there has still been no progress; no conversation, not even a muttering by our government about climate migration. It’s not getting any cooler.

This year our government’s advice was to stay home during the heatwave – but what about when home becomes too hot? Or when your home is being flooded?”

With our interest peaked this week as victims of the crisis, we must open our eyes to the impending reality. Massive parts of the world will become uninhabitable, including parts of the UK. Two days of record-breaking heat, rightly sent us into panic with most of us cowering inside our homes desperate to cool down. Imagine if it was a month or worse six months, I’m certain many of us would consider moving and those who could move, would. 

This year our government’s advice was to stay home during the heatwave – but what about when home becomes too hot? Or when your home is being flooded? The solution won’t be as easy as “stay home” for much longer. People in coastal areas will need to move across the country, into cities, and people across the world will need to flee their sinking homelands.

We can’t wait for another COP conference, where governments across the world collectively break their promises just months after their opportunistic environmental photoshoots. So, it’s time we seriously talk about an asylum policy that will allow climate refugees to freely travel or flee their burning homes. We must no longer accept the increasingly barbaric approach to people on the move. The pandemic showed us that rapid and transformative change is possible; the Ukraine asylum scheme showed that the government is able to put together rapid migration plans. It’s time they wise up and do away with the barbarity: we need safe routes for people fleeing extreme weather, we must welcome them with open arms. 

Currently, climate refugees who come here because of climate disaster have no protection – they are arrested and detained and placed in brutal detention centres. A just future needs a green new deal, a fair transition away from fossil fuels, and a politics of welcome for climate refugees. 

Ravishaan Rahel Muthiah is the communications director at JCWI and a former Greenpeace campaigner