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Extreme disasters force millions out of their homes

Extreme weather disasters forced an average of 21.8 million people from their homes each year between 2008 and 2016, according to a new Oxfam report, which levels much of the blame at climate change.

“Climate change is increasing the destructive power of storms and floods,” Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy advisor Simon Bradshaw said.

“The catastrophic 2017 Atlantic hurricane season and massive flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal are devastating reminders of what’s at stake. At the same time, rising seas, shifting rainfall patterns, more intense droughts and other impacts are eroding people’s land, natural resources and security.”

The Uprooted by Climate Change report said the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those in the lower and middle income countries. They are around five times more likely to be forced from their homes by sudden weather disasters than higher income countries, a devastating reality for those who have contributed far less to global climate pollution.

To the Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginals from Australia’s far north, and the Pacific atoll nations of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, “climate change is a fight for survival”.

“To be forced from one’s home, livelihood and ancestral land epitomises the immense human cost and injustice of climate change,” Dr Bradshaw said.

“However, much can be done to minimise the risk of displacement and ensure rights, protections and dignity for people who are forced to move.”

This years United Nations’ climate conference, COP 23, will focus on such concerns.

Kicking off on 6 November in Bonn, Germany, the conference will be chaired by Fiji, a country suffering from the impacts of climate change and the threat of displacement.

Dr Bradshaw said it was time for Australia to follow the lead of the Pacific Island communities in their action on climate change.

“To meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement, including helping limit warming to 1.5°C, Australia must achieve zero emissions before 2040, say no to new coal mines – including Adani’s proposed Carmichael mega-mine – and increase support for climate change adaptation in developing countries,” Dr Bradshaw said.

The report warned that without stronger action, more and more people would continue to be forced from their homes. Rich countries still have not met their financial promises for climate change in developing countries, and Oxfam believes COP23 should make progress on providing money for climate change loss and damage.

Although not all displacement from extreme weather disasters is a result of climate change, Dr Bradshaw said inaction had increased severity.

But he said it was still not too late to act.

“While it might sometimes seem like the odds are insurmountable, the brave determination of so many of our Pacific neighbours inspires us all; it’s time for everyone to follow their lead and fight for our future,” he said.

Even more severe is the impact on these communities from slow-onset events like drought and sea-level rise.

Eri Aram is a 28-year-old father from Kiribati whose family may have to leave their country because of rising sea levels.

He travelled to Australia to tell his story and will attend the UN conference in Germany to ensure his country is given a voice in determining future climate policy.

“Every year my wife and I talk about the having to leave Kiribati due to sea level rise. But we and our children are i-Kiribati; Kiribati is our home, it is our language, traditions, culture and we don’t want to lose it,” Mr Aram said.

He urged Australia to be more proactive and strategic in the global move to clean energy, including a divorce from the creation of new coal mines.

“I want my kids to look up to me and I must prove that I am responsible for them and my country. I want a clear and bright future for my children, as everyone does,” Mr Aram said.

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization revealed concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2016 surged – at record speed – to the highest levels seen in 800,000 years, at  403.3 parts per million.

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