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Is America Ready for Climate Change Refugees?

By September 3, 2015 No Comments

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Right after the government of Iceland announced to accept only 50 refugees in 2015, more than 10,000 Icelanders offered on Facebook to take them in their own houses this week. If Iceland would have as many inhabitants as the U.S. the number would be more than 1 million.

The number of refugees coming to Europe this year is the highest on record. But Europeans just as Americans have to ask themselves: Will the number of refugees go up even more when climate change goes beyond 2 degrees? And are the American people ready for that?

Already in 2008 Srgjan Kerim, president of the United Nations General Assembly, warned global warming could cause up to 200 million refugees worldwide — per year. Droughts, rising sea levels and super-storms are just some examples how climate change curtails people from their livelihoods.

The goal of the climate talks in Bonn is a climate treaty by the end of the year in Paris. While there has been some progress, the U.S. climate commitments are still much weaker than those of European Union.

If the US keeps going as it is right now, Americans have to expect a higher number of refugees in the future, especially from the Caribbean. On the first day the delegate of Dominica called the attention to climate talks in Bonn to the storm Erika that just devastated his country and killed 35 this week. But also rising sea levels will hit the Caribbean hard — and also faster as thought, NASA stated recently . If these displaced people will have to look for a new home they will come to the U.S., not South-America. How will the American people react to that?

But climate change might have even more threatening consequences: Just recently a research team from Columbia University and UCLA made climate change partly responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Right before the outbreak of the civil war Syria faced the longest and hardest drought on record. This drought did not solely cause the civil war, but it worked as a conflict-catalyst.

The US-Secretary of Defense referred to climate change as a “threat-multiplier” in his Quadrennial Defense Review. Climate change is making the world more unsecure and vulnerable. In Bonn the U.S.-delegation made a first step forward. They spoke out for including help to those affected by climate change in a treaty.

But at the same time the United States lack action on the most crucial issues: Science is clear that climate change must not go beyond 2 degrees to prevent the most catastrophic damages. Nonetheless the delegation of the USA in Bonn just stated that they don’t want a treaty that has a 2-degrees target.

The U.S.-government seems not ready to prevent a refugee crisis in the Caribbean. That’s why the American people have to ask to ask themselves: Are they ready to deal with the consequences of their government’s inaction? Will they show the same support to refugees as people in Iceland?

Originally published in the Huffington Post

Andreas Sieber

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