Paris Agreement: global solidarity in action

Paris Agreement: global solidarity in action

The debate about global warming is heating up , in some ways quite literally – the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that 2016 is on track to be the “hottest year on record.”  Fortunately, glance at the news and you can easily believe that state institutions have the issue well in hand. The wording of the well-publicised Paris Agreement was finalised before the end of 2015, undeniably a success when one considers it marks the first time nearly two hundred nations have been able to agree on anything. Under the agreement, states aim to strengthen “the global response to the threat of climate change…keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Criticisms of the agreement are well-known, and arguably too extensive for a mere blog post. The main problem seems to lie with the targets, which some perceive as not ambitious enough, particularly taking into consideration  findings from MIT indicating that temperatures could increase by up to 3.7% by 2100. Developing countries have the most to lose if this situation arises, as highlighted by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous women’s leader from Chad who spoke at the COP21 conference about the threat rising temperatures pose to development in her country. Yet money remains a sticking point; while developing countries need aid to adapt to both climate change and the move towards green energy, countries with more to give don’t seem particularly willing to commit to any tangible targets.

Image of climate leaders standing up and holding hands in the air as the Paris climate deal is finalised at COP21
The Paris Agreement was adopted on December 12 2015 | Photograph UN.org

 

The legality of the Paris Agreement is another grey area.  There seems to be a legally binding element to the treaty, but there is confusion over what this legal form should be. The reality of getting 197 countries to agree universally to a treaty on climate change means some of the more forceful language had to be omitted, a disappointment to the EU and small island states who would have liked for the agreement to go further, ensuring countries meet their targets. However, this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. The theory that a treaty must be legally binding to be effective didn’t hold for the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor to the Paris treaty. Despite the internationally binding nature of that agreement, the United States failed to ratify it, and developing countries received a free-for-all pass on emissions.

The truly global nature of the Paris Agreement is what needs to be held onto. 197 countries agreed to it and it is expected to come into force by November 4. Countries known for releasing the most greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, such as India, China and the United States have all ratified the agreement earlier than expected, an endorsement that is likely to catalyse further action on climate change.  Action is the crucial thing here, rather than further commitments. This is more likely to be achieved through global solidarity anyway, given the role of diplomatic relations in this globalised world, as it is possible that countries failing to meet their commitments could suffer the weight of international exclusion instead of lengthy legal proceedings – a reality none care to face.

Woman in mac and green scarf holds up banner saying "climate is a common good" at a climate protest march
Photograph CAFOD

 

Meanwhile, developments continue and while not explicitly related to the Paris Agreement, are interesting signposts about what could be around the corner. The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently decided that environmental crimes would be included in their remit – a change of focus for the court of last resort. While the weaknesses of the ICC, such as problematic bias and ineffectiveness, are well-documented, this demonstrates an expanded focus on regulating the environment and holding actors who abuse it to account. While there has been no indication that state governments will be brought before the ICC for failing to reach their targets, the precedent set by the American bill which allows families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia shows countries’ previously concrete immunity is no longer secure. While it seems unlikely that this could be used as a way for countries to hold others accountable for failing to meet their agreements, it is interesting to note that this law doesn’t come from the state level. Instead, the suit comes from families impacted, arguably harder to ignore.

Progress over the last year has been encouraging, but it must not lag. The early ratification of the Paris Agreement is a sign that states are finally beginning to take notice of President Obama’s words from 2015, that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate.” Let’s all hope our leaders are up to the task.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Cross Border Migration and the Challenge to Europe

Cross Border Migration and the Challenge to Europe

The mass movement of people across borders remains one of the most intractable challenges of modern international politics. Today, there are unprecedented numbers of displaced people, and environmental challenges will add to the push and pull factors driving further cross-border migrants. Tim Swabey examines recent cross-border migration trends, and explains why European states need to change their methods for dealing with the issue.

Contrary to the assertions of many media outlets, displaced people choose to leave their homes for a number of factors, some which push them out, and others which pull them away to find a new life. Conflict is the most significant, but it sits alongside a range of others including environmental change, economic opportunity, and perception of identity. Environmental change is likely to become an increasingly important driver of migration, and will present a major and long-term challenge for European countries. Both politicians and publics will have to adjust to a new reality in the future.

According to UNHCR, there were 65.3million displaced people worldwide in 2015. This was up from 59.5million in 2014, and 51.2million in 2013. In fact there have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of displaced persons since 2011. It seems sensible to assume that this trend will continue, and the number of displaced people is set to rise further. As of 2015, 21.3million of the displaced population were refugees, and 10million were condemned to statelessness. 33,972 people forced were forced from their homes each day last year.

Amongst the factors driving this rapidly increasing trend, war and violence are the most significant. The UN estimates 11million Syrians alone have fled their homes due to the continuing civil war, with nearly half crossing borders into neighbouring countries or Europe. With continuing violence in Libya, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond, conflict-driven migration is set to continue.

Conflict is the main push factor driving displacement around the world, yet environmental factors will soon play a larger part. Changes to the environment caused by global warming leads to a scarcity of resources such as water and arable land – alongside higher incidents of natural catastrophes such as storms or droughts. This drives many to abandon their homes, as their livelihoods become untenable in the face of unpredictable weather and reduced access to basic resources. The decision to uproot their families and lives is a sure indication of the desperation these people feel.

Chatham House/Creative Commons License
Chatham House/Creative Commons License

The numbers of environmental refugees today are often contested, and most commentary focuses on the projected numbers of future environmental refugees, as the impact of global warming becomes more widely felt. The most cited and controversial figure has been produced by Oxford University academic Norman Myers, who suggested that up to 200million would be displaced due to global warming by 2050. We should remain rightly sceptical of this figure, which has been criticised by many leading academics. For instance a report commissioned by the UK government in 2011 suggested that the majority of environmentally driven migration will initially remain within the national borders of developing countries.

 

Yet environmental changes will increasingly influence migration across Europe and beyond. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at UCL claimed: “Climate and vegetation zones are shifting, so the Mediterranean will likely keep getting drier this century, with knock-on negative social and economic impacts. That will be tough for Spain, Italy and Greece, where significant numbers of people may move north, and of course, displaced people from elsewhere wouldn’t stay in the Mediterranean, they’d keep travelling north.”

European Commission DG ECHO/Creative Commons License
European Commission DG ECHO/Creative Commons License

Environmental change could potentially cause unprecedented levels of cross border migration in the longer-term. The face of domestic European politics will change as a result, and political parties will define themselves along the lines of pursing open or closed societies, instead of the traditional Left-Right divide. The issue of migration is often highly controversial and politicians are keen to avoid antagonising publics further.

In doing so, they attempt to avoid dealing with the issue. European states rely on countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to take most of the refugee and migratory burden. Nearly 40% of the world’s refugees reside in the Middle East and North Africa. It seems foolish to assume that Europe can rely on regional gatekeepers in the face of further environmental-driven migration.

If the current trends in cross-border movement continue, European people and politicians will have a rude awakening in the future. Better to discuss solutions early.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Refugee Crisis: The Shame of Europe

The Refugee Crisis: The Shame of Europe

In the days that followed the death of Aylan Kurdi, there was a global display of grief, horror and outrage at the human cost of the refugee crisis. Even tabloids which had previously published notoriously (and vulgar) anti-immigrant sentiments, joined the chorus of voices demanding something be done to ensure an end to the death and misery of those making the perilous journey. Two months later, the Daily Mail published a cartoon of refugees storming the borders of Europe, accompanied by rats. The image encapsulated what the UN high commissioner for human rights described as “sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion” from the British media. However, I believe the hostile response to refugees goes beyond this. Bias against foreigners is entrenched in the political establishment of Europe, which often targets migrants as a means of distracting from domestic policy failures. This results in the prevalence of anti-immigrant attitudes. Now, over a 120 leading figures from the field of economics and international organisations have signed a letter, condemning the woeful response of the British government to the refugee crisis. It is these views I wish to echo and support, as I believe this is a fundamental moral issue which is shaming Europe.

Firstly though, I would like to confront the economic arguments, which are often used by anti-immigration zealots, as a means to justify opposition, which in such circumstances, would otherwise be deemed as callous. Even in one of the most open and liberalised economies in the world, free movement of labour is contested within the mainstream political establishment. The adverse impact of migrants on the economy was a key theme of the Home Secretary’s Party Conference speech this year. However, I believe such views to be empirically wrong. Consider every great hub of developed economic activity across the world today. From New York to Hong Kong, we notice that every advanced region has at some point in their history experienced an influx of migrants. Regardless of the reason, be it war, famine, persecution, modern human history is abundant with examples of mass migration. In the days prior to the industrial development, economic conditions were intrinsically linked to population size. Agriculture has diminishing returns, so the more people working on a single plot of land, the less production there is. Industrial, capital based production however is different. We have constant or increasing returns. For each additional unit of labour and capital, the production increases either proportionately or even more rapidly. In essence, a developed society can sustain increasing populations, providing resources are available.

Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland. [Blace area, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia]. United Nations Photo / Creative Commons License
Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland. United Nations Photo / Creative Commons License

This leads to the next line of argument, which I’m basing on the theory of circular and cumulative causation. Assume we have two regions within one nation, and suddenly one finds itself more prosperous, leading to increased wages. This will attract migrants from the other region, and as they arrive they enter the work force. The demand they bring to the economy, and the labour they provide encourages increased production, which stimulates profit growth. Profits are re-invested back into production, causing further expansion, creating more employment opportunities. Firms are attracted to the region, as it is close to a thriving consumer base, and a large pool of potential labour. The increased population results in greater tax revenue for the government, which leads to higher spending on public services such as education and health, as well as the local infrastructure. This does more to appeal to wider business, while improving the productivity of the local population. In effect, success drives success, and the influx of labour is vital for this process. In a dynamic and advanced capitalist economy, resources flow to where there is demand and prosperity. Ultimately this results in a scenario where a developed nation can sustain larger populations, through the simple fact migrants stimulate the growth which attracts resources in the first place. In addition to this, Europe has further incentive to welcome refugees, given that the region is facing an increasingly ageing population. In short, there are plenty of economic reasons to welcome refugees.

However, development economics is not just about monetary gain. Arguably the primary aim is to eradicate poverty. Amartya Sen, the celebrated economist and philosopher, once described poverty as the “deprivation of opportunity”, and by treating refugees with the contempt we have seen, we are not only accepting poverty, but supporting its continuation. The arguments of our government and many across Europe do not stand up to the scrutiny of economic analysis. By refusing to help those in Europe or offer the safe and legal routes to safety every human should be entitled too, we are not discouraging fleeing refugees. In every case of migration there are push and pull factors. The government is ignoring the intolerable and brutal conditions which are pushing people from Syria and other war torn and economically destitute nations to seek refuge in Europe. Refugees don’t base their decision on the welfare system of Europe. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to argue that the average refugee has a comprehensive knowledge of the vastly different welfare systems that exist across Europe. Instead they come because Europe is held as a beacon of human rights, civil liberties and economic prosperity. In neighbouring states, refugees find safety, but no opportunity. In Lebanon for example, to maintain residence, refugees must sign pledges to not work. Without the chance of bettering their lives, or providing their children with an education, they become forced to pursue refuge elsewhere.

DFID / Creative Commons License
DFID / Creative Commons License

 

The British government policy to reduce the scale of rescue operations in the Mediterranean was implemented based on a similar premise that this would act as a deterrent, yet the bodies continue to wash ashore. This should be enough to warn us that such a strategy is doomed. All this idea will achieve, is to push desperate refugees further into the hands of people smugglers and other clandestine activities, which endangers their lives, and makes the situation even more difficult for Europe to effectively deal with. Following the line set by the aforementioned leading economists, I believe it is time Britain acts to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees and establish safe, legal routes into the EU. We will not solve this crisis through inaction, in the hope it will just disappear. Now, more than ever is the time for Britain to display its humanity. Some believe what we are doing currently, to be enough. When refugees are giving tags to wear so they can eat, some would point out this is better than what they had. This is an awfully low bar to set for ourselves. If we ever hope to one day achieve universal development, we can’t strive to be better than our worst. Only when we can exceed our best expectations can we feel pride in how we have helped those in need. Only under a humanistic approach to refugees, migrants and human life in general can we achieve universal economic development.

By Dean Hochlaf

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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A Refugee crisis we can’t ignore because of distance

A Refugee crisis we can’t ignore because of distance

Recent catastrophic loss of life of refugees in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe has resulted in a media storm about the issue. Yet those at the centre of the crisis are being persecuted and the focus being pushed further and further away from the real issue. Here, Lorraine Patch explores the underexplored but vitally important question of why it is no longer possible to ignore plights of refugees desperate to reach Europe.

Fear and scaremongering has affected our ability to see the issue from what it really should be- a human issue. With this fear, we seem to have forgotten to consider humanity.

Any issue of injustice, poverty, war or of those in need deserves an equal consideration, whatever country it originates in. However, the plight of refugees seeking to reach Europe does not fit within this category of ‘them and us’. The presents and futures are, for better or for worse intertwined.

‘Them and Us’ is no longer applicable 

In some cases, crises’ are dismissed and easily forgotten because of sheer distance, further problematising the ‘them and us’ scenario between the developed and developing world. However, the issue of refugees risking their lives to reach Europe cannot be simply dismissed because of distance, as it is right on our doorstep here in Britain and relates directly to our lives.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License
© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

This week saw shockingly not the first case of two stowaways who hid in the undercarriage of plane on a 10-hour long haul fight from Johannesburg to London Heathrow. One was discovered dead on the roof of a West London office, and the survivor was admitted to hospital in a critical condition. Like those travelling by boat, this is yet another case of refugees risking everything for a chance at a better life.

Being able to ignore poverty because of its lack of proximity is becoming harder, the over used notion of ‘them and us’ is no longer applicable as our world becomes far more interconnected. This also resonates with comments made this week by the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening is something which is occurring more often, and that indicates what should be a new attitude towards poverty; “the days of being able to simply ignore poverty around the other side of the world are over”.

Interconnectedness is often seen as the best way to approach world challenges; and yet in the case of the EU refugee crisis countries and the individuals within the countries seem desperate to distance themselves from this approach.

Refugees and Migrants- what’s the difference?

One of the biggest injustices of the overuse of the term ‘migrant’ as opposed to ‘Asylum Seeker’ or ‘Refugee’ is understatement of the desperation which prompts people to pay thousands to people traffickers to board a dangerous boat and risk life to get away from where they live. The term migrant suggests a choice built on a desire for a greater financial and economic future. It is believed that many of the ‘migrants’ seeking refuge in Europe are fleeing poverty, violence or religious oppression in Somalia or Eritrea and war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

They key difference here is choice. To suggest that anyone who is fleeing violence, persecution, severe poverty or lack of freedom could make a choice to return home without the situation which forced them to leave in the first place improves, is inhumane.

Migrants can plan travel, take belongings and in some cases begin to build a plan for life in their new home country. Refugees don’t have this luxury, so the two are very different.

The sheer danger of the methods used to navigate away from their home country and seek asylum is testament to these two distinct definitions. The widespread media use of the term ‘migrant’ implicates choice and misrepresents the desperation and severe danger that refugees find themselves in.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License
© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

Insensitive Representation

The Daily Mail last month published an article demonising refugees who having landed on the Greek island of Kos are living in the town centre where British tourists often visit.

With points in the article such as “The holiday-makers feel uncomfortable”, “These ladies’ view of the harbour is somewhat disrupted by dozens of migrants walking the streets” the article only seeks to further de-humanise and persecute refugees who find themselves on the island of Kos still living in poverty whilst trying to seek asylum.

This representation diminishes the tragedy and once again promotes the idea of ‘them and us’ which is so harmful in damaging public perception of those who are genuine refugees fleeing persecution.

Many of us will be lucky enough to never end up in a situation where we feel we have no option but to leave our country in search of freedom, basic rights and opportunity. Understanding and consideration of humanity is important to ensure that even further demonisation of these people already in a desperate situation does not happen.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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How Europe’s reliance on biofuels is affecting Guatemala

Because of EU targets from 2008, more and more of our energy is coming from biofuels. But what effect does our increasing reliance have on the land producing this energy? Courtenay Howe examines the land grabs that are harming Guatemala’s local communities.

The beauty of Guatemala is being spoiled by land grabs to capitalise on biofuel production. Photo by amslerPIX

Biofuels, created from organic matter such as sugar cane and palm oil, are regarded as a more sustainable alternative to energy sources such as oil. The importance of this alternative energy was recognised by the European Union in 2008 when it set a target to ensure that 20% of the energy consumed by its member states came from renewable sources, such as biofuels, by 2020. Half of this target would materialise within the transport industry.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Toy Soldiers – Russian democracy facing a real test

Photo by endtimesnews.wordpress.com

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As Russia goes to the polls today in a presidential election fraught with tension, Rowan Emslie considers the Kremlin’s decision to ban the use of toys in political protest.

In an attempt to baffle their detractors with a display of Daily Mail worthy self-parody, the Russian authorities recently banned toys from ‘protesting’ on the grounds that they are not citizens and, therefore, do not have the rights of citizens. The protests took place in the Siberian city of Barnaul in response to reported corruption and electoral fraud.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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