Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Opinion

To help refugees, EU should tackle climate

  • Tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels on 27 September to say 'Refugees Welcome' (Photo: EUobserver)

In a splendid show of solidarity, at least 20,000 people walked five kilometres through Brussels last Sunday afternoon (27 September) to say 'Refugees Welcome'.

The dignity and quiet determination of the marchers – from an estimated 30 different nationalities, comprising of refugees, 'sans papiers', students, families, citizen platforms, and civil society groups – should be an example to EU leaders, who, by contrast, have managed only a semblance of action.

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Heads of state could at least announce something resembling a response at their extraordinary meeting last Wednesday where they agreed funding for hosting countries, new reception centres, and reinforced external borders. These measures mean the EU is still doing very little compared to what is needed, and especially given the challenges faced by countries outside the EU which are hosting the most refugees.

European Council president Donald Tusk, who chaired the meeting, admitted that the greatest numbers of refugees are yet to come.

There is currently no likelihood that fewer people will be forced to leave their homes in war zones and deprived regions. And if we want to reduce the future suffering of millions of refugees, we must start addressing the root causes.

In a globalised world, policy-makers must bear in mind that what we do here in Europe has a big impact outside our borders. Resource extraction and use is a significant contributing factor to many of the violent conflicts that cause people to make perilous journeys to faraway lands.

Reckless European overconsumption drains poorer nations of their natural resources, driving up prices and fuelling conflicts.

This autumn's revised Circular Economy package will be an important test of Europe's seriousness to take urgent action to tackle this by measuring and reducing our use of resources in the EU in absolute terms.

Climate change is push factor

The UN climate talks in Paris this December will be another test of governments' grasp of the root drivers of the reasons people become refugees. Climate change may not be the direct cause of a conflict or crisis but it is known to exacerbate it.

Without adequate climate action, more people will seek to move in search of safety and a better life.

The EU's position for the climate negotiations agreed by environment ministers on 18 September – during unprecedented levels of attention on the plight of refugees – is not a promising sign for Paris.

Governments stayed on the side of the fossil fuel industry instead of signalling their determination to replace our energy system with a clean, renewable one and take serious steps to fight climate change.

The continued burning of fossil fuels has already locked us in to at least one degree Celsius of warming.

The failure of Europe and other rich world regions to stop the burning of fossil fuels means we are still on a trajectory to climate change of a magnitude that will see crops fail, diseases spread, supply routes disrupted, extreme weather events intensify, and conflicts over water, food and other key resources exacerbated.

It will be the poor and the marginalised who suffer most.

European leaders need to face up to these systemic issues if they want to work towards a world where people are not displaced.

Our trade deals impoverish the Global South, while our multi-nationals make huge profits from exploiting its natural resources. Our arms deals arm the dictators, and our economic system fuels the demand for ever-cheaper products by externalising the costs to the poor and the natural world.

If the EU leaders fail to address the bigger picture, they will only accelerate the drivers.

Like the march in Brussels, throughout Europe people are saying 'Refugees Welcome' and support makeshift refugee camps with donations, time and compassion.

Citizens are taking genuine action when governments are only feigning it.

To truly take action politicians must start addressing the fundamental drivers and embark on a transition to a fair, sustainable and inclusive world.

Magda Stoczkiewicz is Director of Friends of the Earth Europe

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