Certainly it does to the 24.2 million people who were forced to flee from their homes and communities in 2016 due to sudden-onset natural disasters. Almost 50 people displaced every minute of every day of the year! For these men, women, and children, young and old, climate change is not a hypothetical – whilst they may not understand the causes, it’s impact is their current reality.
This blog could have been written in response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement and the ongoing concerns about its impact on global warming and climate change. But it wasn’t.
In fact it was triggered by a new report, the 2017 Global Report on Internal Displacement. 2016 was a year in which the global focus on refugees and migrants contrasted starkly with the limited attention on the millions of internally displaced people (IDPs). Yet there are more than twice the number of IDPs worldwide than there are refugees! IDPs are those people that have had to leave their farms, villages, or towns but who remain within their countries.
Many of us assume that most people are displaced because of conflict and violence but the report revealed that displacements due to natural disaster far outnumbered those associated with conflict and violence – by more than three to one.
World Environment Day, 5th June, is a global celebration of nature, a day to reconnect with the places that matter most to you. But what if your home and farm has been washed away by floods or your business destroyed by wildfire or storms. Earthquakes may hit the headlines but the majority of sudden-onset natural disasters are climate and weather-related. In 2016, they were responsible for 23.5 million people abandoning their homes and property – that’s 97% of disaster-related displacements. And that doesn’t include those fleeing their homes in the context of slow-onset hazards such as drought or coastal erosion. Low and lower middle-income countries bear the brunt of internal displacement every year, with South and East Asia the regions most affected last year.
Climate change is also a factor in many of today’s conflicts, from Darfur to Somalia to Iraq and Syria. People tend to forget the five-year drought in Syria’s northeast that preceded the war and displaced some 1.5 million people. Refugees are defined as people fleeing war or persecution who have crossed an international border, they have special status in international law. In contrast, IDPs have no guarantee of protection or assistance; they are the responsibility of their national government – often a government with insufficient resources and capacity to prepare for or manage such disasters. Whilst IDPs may initially be accepted and supported by their host communities and towns, over the longer term their presence can lead to economic stress and food shortages with resentment growing to their ongoing presence and needs. It is easy to understand how in communities with limited resources frustration with the persistence of IDPs can lead to local activism, cultural clashes and even trigger xenophobic responses.
So – World Environment Day, the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment – above all, it is the ‘people’s day’ for doing something to take care of the Earth or become an agent of change.
What did you do to help protect our planet this World Environment Day?