by Stan Hirst
The 2019 Canadian federal election is in full swing. The media overflows with headlines, photo ops, emphatic one-liners and the occasional blooper. Politics as usual. Promises, promises. Goodies for everyone, especially the underprivileged, the middle class and for those who voted the wrong way last time around.
At a time when global protest against climate change has reached a new height, especially among youth, political parties on the moderate and left political spectrum are including appropriate promises in their electoral platforms.
The Liberals express commitments to planting two billion trees within a comprehensive plan to conserve forests, agricultural lands, wetlands and coastal areas. Their promise is carbon neutrality by 2050 and tax benefits to industry to encourage manufacture of products with zero emissions. New Democrats promise to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37% cent reduction from 2017 levels, retrofit all housing stock in Canada by 2050 through low-interest loans, implement low-carbon transit projects, have net carbon-free electricity by 2030 and full non-emitting electricity by 2050. Greens intend to halt all new fossil fuel development projects and have 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030.
Conservatives propose to rely on emissions standards, private-sector research, development of green technology and patent and tax credits to shift the emphasis to greener energy technologies. They would scrap all carbon taxes. They believe Canada would have little impact on climate change by reducing emissions at home, so they propose making Canadian oil and gas cleaner to replace dirtier products from other countries (and no, I have no idea how that can be achieved).
The People’s Party of Canada refreshingly states openly that there is no scientific consensus that CO2 from human activity causes dangerous global warming now or will do so in the future. The Party denies any connection between global catastrophes and global warming.
The parties diverge gapingly on immigration policy as well. Liberals would increase immigration levels to 350,000 a year by 2021. Conservatives and the NDP propose immigration levels “consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests”, without defining what that actually means. Greens have no specific immigration targets. The People’s Party would reduce the annual number of immigrants and refugees accepted annually from 350,000 to 100,000 – 150,000, depending on economic circumstances, and would outlaw birth tourism. The chances that any of these intentions will come remotely close to realization are total bupkis.
Unlike the imaginary world of the canvassing politician with its simplistic characterizations and eternal optimizations, the world we’re all living in is complex and interactive. Everything ties into everything else at some point. What the current political contenders neglect to do is to acknowledge that the two big-ticket issues of climate change and population flux through mass immigration are inextricably tied together. None of the parties appears willing to address this fact.
There are currently 70 million forced migrants in the world fleeing wars, hunger, persecution and climate change. The United Nations estimates that there will be between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050. Although there has always been an interdependency between human migrations and climate, the phenomena of extreme weather, rising sea levels and instability brings these relationships to the fore.
Climate change is gradually yet pervasively causing sudden natural disasters which influence the nature and extent of human migrations. Sudden-onset natural disasters like tropical cyclones typically lead to mass displacement, but those affected can often eventually return to their homes. On the other hand, climate-influenced slow-onset disasters like desertification, reduction of soil fertility, coastal erosion and sea-level rise can lead to long-term migrations. Both are caused by climate change but dealing with them requires different adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Population growth, poverty, governance, human security and conflict are all influenced by climate change. For this reason it is hard to estimate how many environmental migrants there are globally. However, forecasts by the UN International Organization for Migration posit that there could be between 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. The most widely cited estimate is 200 million environmental refugees. This figure equals the current estimate of total international migrants worldwide.
The most well documented migrant crisis in the Western world is the Central American mass migration to the United States. Recent studies and reports on the issue highlight the role of climate change as a key factor in this migratory crisis. Average ambient temperatures in Central America have increased by 0.50C since 1950, and current forecasts suggest rises of another 1-2 degrees before 2050. The frequency and intensity of storms, floods and droughts in the region continues to rise and the US Agency for International Development predict that rainfall will decrease just as prolonged droughts increase.
El Salvador is projected to lose 10-28% of its coastline before the end of the century. In the Guatemalan highlands farmers are unable to grow crops on land that has been productive for centuries. Author Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker states : “In most of the western highlands the question is no longer whether someone will emigrate, but when.”
The number of asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to Canada rose by 30% to more than 311,000, in 2018. Of those who made it to Canada, government data shows a significant majority were accepted into the country. On World Refugee Day, June 2018, the UNHCR announced Canada was the world’s most generous country for resettlement in 2018.
Mass migrations caused by ecological crises are not just a Latin American problem. A 2019 study forecasts that, due to global ice-sheet melting, sea level rise could be worse than currently predicted and could result in land losses of 1.8 million km2, impacting critical regions of food production and displacing ~187 million people globally.
A planet that is unstable leads to unstable societies and ensuing violence and insecurity. As certain areas are more affected than others, even in the short term, mass movements occur of people seeking better and more stable alternatives. Our governance structure should be cognizant of this.