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It’s Time to Recognize Climate Refugees

It’s Time to Recognize Climate Refugees

Through a flurry of executive action and appointments in his first 100 days, President Biden is restoring U.S. leadership on both climate change and refugee resettlement. Addressing climate change today will save lives, property, and money in the long run. And accepting more refugees will enhance America’s moral leadership while reinvigorating American communities with new, hardworking members. President Biden should go further: He should recognize that climate change is driving the need for refugee resettlement.

Today, the law defines refugees as those who flee their home country because of persecution of their religion, race, ethnicity, or politics. The reality is that refugees are also fleeing climate change. The World Bank estimates that over 140 million climate migrants will be displaced by 2050. That estimate dwarfs the number of Central American migrants who are overwhelming the asylum system at our Southern border today.

In the face of warmer temperatures, reduced precipitation, and blighted crops—struggling farmers from Guatemala and El Salvador are giving up and fleeing to the U.S. border. As the effects of climate change increase later this century, this pattern of migration will accelerate. The Biden administration should adopt a legal definition that protects these climate refugees.

Climate change will submerge American communities like Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, and entire countries like the Maldives. Some areas of the earth will no longer be safe for year-round human habitation. Those who flee surely should qualify as “climate refugees.”

The climate crisis and the migrant crisis are also interconnected. When hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fled to Europe, the world looked to the revolution and civil war as its cause. Yet droughts in the years leading up to the Arab Spring diminished grain harvests and drove up food prices, fueling social tensions ahead of the revolution.