On the 23rd June 2016, the UK shocked the world by voting to leave the EU. One of the key reasons cited for this decision, was because of our exasperation with free movement. According to the 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey, we as UK citizens believe that there are too many people landing on our shores with the intention of settling here. Therefore, when we had the opportunity to change this scenario, our natural reaction was to pull up the drawbridge and try to look after the ones already inside the castle. Ergo. Brexit.

But, the question that we should be asking is; why is immigration increasing?

Inward migration can be split into two broad categories:
1. Immigrants: People seeking to settle in the UK in order to improve their economic prospects, overall wellbeing or life satisfaction.
2. Refugees/asylum seekers: People seeking refuge in the UK, having fled their own country due to conflict, terror, fear of persecution, drought or famine.

Between 2005-2010, asylum seekers represented 2% of the people migrating to the UK. In 2015, they represented 20%. Whilst refugees still made up the minority of migrants, this story of the mass-movement of people was keenly captured by the media and quickly brought to the attention of the British public. Soon, the ‘migrant crisis’ (N.B. I prefer to call this the ‘refugee crisis’, recognising the categories above), which saw crowds of people dangerously crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats, or walking thousands of miles across mainland Europe, was shrouded in negative political commentary. Links were quickly drawn between ‘accepting’ refugees into this country, and spending money.

In the current political landscape where imposed austerity is ‘necessary’, more people = less money. Less resources, fewer houses, less school places and fewer jobs. More people = a worse life for British citizens. The sentiment was never directly expressed by our friends, but the anti-migrant rhetoric in the media and the bombardment of negative coverage around the issue led us to ask ourselves questions like “Why should we support these people? Why are they coming to Britain?”

Close the borders. Burn the boats. Leave them in Syria.

But what if we were a part of causing all of this? What if all of these people were displaced because of anthropogenically-driven climate change?

The typical climate of many middle eastern countries is hot and arid. Grains such as wheat and barley are the staple crops grown; both rely heavily on a regular supply of water.
Over the last decade average temperatures in the region have been nearly 2°C warmer than they were in 1900. In fact, between 2006-2010, this increased temperature created a severe drought which resulted in huge harvest failures and mass hunger. Rural farmers could no longer support themselves and so they moved en-masse into urban areas to find work. Cities became overcrowded; there wasn’t enough food, there weren’t enough jobs and there was nowhere to sleep. Soon, hunger turned from despair into anger, adding tension to an otherwise already volatile area. Citizens in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Syria quickly resorted to using any means necessary in which to convey their message of futility and distrust. The Arab Spring had begun.

Since 2011, violence has not stopped in these regions. Over 200,000 people have died and many more have fled in order to try and create lives for themselves elsewhere. Many of those people have tried to come to Britain. And many of them have been met by animosity, closed borders and bulldozers at the refugee camps.

You may think that that links between climate change, the Arab spring, the 2015 refugee crisis and Brexit are tenuous. However, the UN and the IPCC recognise that the number of climate refugees (yes, that’s people who are fleeing from climate change) is going to increase exponentially if we continue to head towards a planet which is several degrees warmer. Huge regions of our planet are going to become uninhabitable as crops fail and water supplies dry up.
Green and luscious regions such as the UK may not stand to be hugely affected by the environmental impacts of climate change. Yes we might have slightly milder winters and slightly wetter summers, but we’re not going to experience rainfall so heavy that homes wash away, or summer temperatures so high that we run out of water, or increased hurricanes, or retreating glaciers… but other people are going to experience these things. Regions which are subjected to large climatic shifts are going to witness entire populations displaced. And many of them are going to be heading towards Britain.

Global average temperatures have increased by 1°C since pre-industrial times. Already, the environmental and social impacts we’re experiencing are complex and unpredictable.
Unfortunately, our current behaviour suggests that climatic change is going to continue unabated; we are on track to produce a world which is somewhere between 4-8°C warmer than the present.
If the potential for mass global catastrophe (yes, I used the word catastrophe and I mean it) is to be reduced, we need to try and limit that warming as much as possible: scientists say we need to aim for a maximum 1.5°Cincrease.

In order to do that we’re going to have to start changing our behaviour pretty quickly. As UK citizens, we are relatively high emitters of carbon per capita (per person), and as the instigators of the industrial revolution, we have been for a very long time: therefore contributing in large part to the problem. One of the first steps that we can make as a country to get us back on the straight and narrow, is to ratify the historic Paris Agreement made at International Climate Conference (COP21) last year. After 21 years in the making and huge amounts of public pressure, in December 2015, leaders from 196 countries pledged to take steps towards limiting further warming. If we ratify this agreement into UK law, in a few months at the next conference (COP22) global leaders will be able to use their time to determine how exactly we’re going to rise to this challenge, rather than having to repeat the negotiations yet again.
Therefore, an action that you as an individual can take, is to sign this petition: which asks Theresa May to ratify the Paris Agreement, so that we can get on with this thing.

Anti-migrant rhetoric was caused by the media, but mass-migration was caused by climate change. Britain is going to continue to be affected by complex social issues which arise from this global problem. If we have any chance of retaining a civilised society as we know it, we need to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Bex Dawkes

About Bex Dawkes

Bex is a recent graduate of a masters degree in sustainable development. She is a keen advocate of linking science & climate change with people & politics, and loves spending time in the great outdoors.