This Earth Day, spare a thought for the refugees of the climate crisis

Earth Day is held annually on the 22nd of April to demonstrate support for, and highlight the importance of, environmental protection. This Earth Day, we at Welcome Merchant encourage our readers to consider the refugees of the climate crisis, an issue that is projected to grow exponentially in coming years.

The history of Earth Day

The first Earth Day was held in the 1970s, marking the beginnings of the modern environmental movement. The day was founded by activist John McConnell, who at the 1969 UNESCO conference in San Francisco proposed a ‘global holiday’ to both celebrate Earth and highlight the importance of ecological balance.

According to the organisation, Earth Day is now “widely recognised as the largest secular observance in the world”. The fight for environmental rights and protections is now more crucial than ever, not just for the natural environment but for people everywhere, especially those living in developing countries.

What is a climate refugee?

Climate refugees (sometimes also referred to as environmental refugees/migrants), are people who are forced to leave their homes or home regions due to changes in the environment. These changes can be sudden (think flash-flooding or unprecedented bushfires), or can occur over a longer period of time (such as increased drought and desertification, rise in sea level, changes in seasonal weather patterns etc.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have cited data that predicts that by the year 2050, there will be an additional 200 million refugees worldwide as a result of the climate crisis. Research by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) highlights how daunting a figure this truly is, as it represents “a ten-fold increase over today’s entire documented refugee and internally displaced populations” and means that “by 2050 one in every 45 people in the world will have been displaced by climate change”

Ironically, and sadly, developing countries who are the least responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases will be the first and hardest hit by the climate emergency. These countries will be increasingly impacted by issues including unreliable food/water supplies and increased frequency of severe weather events.

Further exacerbating this issue is the fact that there is not currently a legally accepted definition for a climate refugee. This lack of a legal definition is problematic for those who become displaced due to climate change, as they are often unable to access crucial support such as financial grants, food aid and shelter.  

The extreme weather events of the climate emergency are not only going to increase the number of refugees in future; it is also affecting the safety and shelter of refugees displaced by other causes. For example, last year the extremely heavy monsoon rains created an unprecedented emergency for the refugees residing at the Rohingya camps in southern Bangladesh. Thousands of refugees were left homeless and six were killed in this extreme weather event.

What can you do to help?

Addressing the climate emergency is imperative on an individual and collective scale. As we have an election approaching in Australia, an obvious way to help is to vote for political parties that have strong policies on assisting refugees/people seeking asylum and environmentalism. You can use the ABC vote compass to ensure your vote aligns with your values by clicking here

As always, Welcome Merchant will continue to support and elevate refugee-owned businesses. Shop our ethical goodies here.

Featured image via UNHCR, photograph taken by Hannah Macdonald