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Climate related displacement is threatening development. We must act now to prevent future harm

12 June 2013

Development has many enemies. Corruption, poor governance and general disinterest all inhibit progress. Displacement, however, is often the biggest enemy of all.

When communities are displaced, they abandon their homes, schools and livelihoods and are forced to embrace an uncertain future. It is as though time races backward and then stands awfully still.

When man-made atrocities, such as war, are to blame for displacement, the consequences are chilling, in part because of a belief that these shocks could have been prevented. They remain, at least in principle, within the scope of human control.

How horrific then to learn that for all the direct disasters humans are enacting upon one another, we are actually only responsible for a fraction of global displacement.

According to a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council, natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, were responsible for 98% of all displacement in 2012. That’s 32.4 million people who were forcibly uprooted due to weather or climate-related events. (Access the report through: http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004BE3B1/(httpInfoFiles)/99E6ED11BB84BB27C1257B6A0035FDC4/$file/global-estimates-2012-may2013.pdf)

As news cameras and the public’s eye focused on the bloody events in Syria – where by the end of the last year almost two million people were said to have been displaced – in India 6.9 million were forced to flee their homes because of violent monsoon floods. A further 6.1 million were displaced in Nigeria for the same reason, while 8.2 million were newly displaced in Africa as a whole. Asia was the hardest hit region, with 22.2 million people forced to leave their homes.

As is so often the case, those least able to adapt and prepare for displacement-causing disasters were the hardest hit, although rich countries did not fully escape nature’s wrath. In America, 900,000 people were heavily impacted by Hurricane Sandy, which tore through the east coast last October.

Extreme weather has haunted humanity since the dawn of time, and it is a stretch to blame much of this displacement on global warming, but there is growing evidence that extreme weather trends are accelerating due to the knock-on-effects of climate change.

In short, even under the most optimistic of global warming scenarios, weather-related displacement will continue and is likely to become more severe. If it does, it threatens to displace many more millions and to undo much of the progress made in developing countries.

The risk of displacement and the threat to development are just some of the reasons why the UK and the world must get tough on global warming – and must do so now.

David Cameron came to power promising to head the “greenest government ever” and to become a global leader in climate change, but like so many of his other promises, these pledge are running hollow. For one, climate change will not be a priority at the G8 summit this year, despite being an excellent opportunity to show global leadership on the issue.

Labour not only has a strong record on global warming, but is looking to put serious green energy policies in place if elected in 2015. It was under Gordon Brown’s leadership that the historic 2008 Climate Change Bill was passed, which made the UK the first country to put legally binding emission reduction targets into law. More recently the Labour Party has responded to critics who say that economic growth and green policies cannot go hand in hand by launching a major review which sets to clearly outline how Britain can bolster the green economy.  (To read more: http://www.eua.org.uk/labour-to-launch-green-economic-policy-review)

We have a responsibility to ensure that the UK does not fall back on its green promises, whereby adding yet another barrier to global development.

 Simona Sikimic is a member of LCID

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