The untold stories of climate impacted peoples

Nov 10, 2017

-UNFCCC COP23, Bonn, Germany

Seas are rising and many people forced to migrate in the Pacific islands, a fracking company takes a fancy to a drought stricken area, hurricanes cripple a whole country, walls and fences are built to block the free movement of people including climate migrants.

These were some of the heartbreaking stories we heard at the Friends of the Earth International climate impacted peoples workshop at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Speakers from Asia Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean shared moving and sometimes personal stories on the changing climate and the impacts they and their communities face.

The workshop was chaired by Hemantha Withanage from The Center for Environmental Justice /Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka who said that Asia Pacific, home to 60% of the world’s population, is also the region with those people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.


Hemantha Withanage

Earlier in the day, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific launched its ‘Call for Just Solutions for Climate Induced Migration in the Asia Pacific’ report. The report details three case studies from Sri Lanka, Philippines and Papua New Guinea and calls on governments and inter-governmental institutions to intervene and find immediate solutions to address the growing concern of climate induced migration. The report can be downloaded here.

Stella-Miria Robinson from Climate Frontlines Collective at Friends of the Earth Australia/Brisbane reminded us of the importance of story telling in indigenous culture, with an edited video version of a play entitled Mama’s Bones. The video touched on the realities of leaving one’s homeland and moving to a new country because of rising sea levels. Culture, tradition and spirituality embedded in the home land are lost in the process of moving.


Stella-Miria Robinson

In explaining the realities for many Pacific island communities who stand to lose their homes, Robinson said, “Australia is not a good neighbour. They do not care and are only concerned with their own agenda of wealth accumulation.” She ended her story with a grim reminder that, “we need to act together to change the situation, we need to act now. It will soon be too late, we will not have a planet home.”

Chief Joey Dearling from the KhoiSan tribe in the Karoo region of South Africa is the official rain caller in his community. He explained that Karoo means land of the drought.


Chief Joey Dearling

In June 2017, he led his tribe in a traditional rain dance ceremony. Chief Dearling who spoke in Afrikaans with English translation said, “no rains came, we lost all our cattle and we could not plant anymore. This means I have failed my community.”

The KhoiSan tribe’s drought stricken area is now attracting companies wanting to frack the land. Chief Dearling, who is also a part of the Karoo Environmental Justice Movement said, “we as a movement are against fracking and we are calling on the World Bank to stop giving money to destroy our precious land. Money divides communities and does not satisfy the needs of the people.” He advocates sustainable development as an alternative.

Puerto Rico suffered a massive devastation after it was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria , both within a two week period in September. Hurricane Irma knocked out power and Hurricane Maria affected community water supplies. “It has been 60 days since our communities had any power or water and food is running scarce,” said Katia Avilés-Vazquez from the Organización Boricuá De Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico. Vasquez has worked with under-represented communities for the past 25 years and her emotional story of the aftermath of the recent devastation in Puerto Rico left many in tears.


Katia Avilés-Vazquez

She said that much of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico is gone and the government has started hoarding resources instead of passing them on to the people who are in desperate need. She spoke about the government propaganda which has reported only 16 deaths yet, “our government burnt more than 900 bodies and there are more than 100 bodies in the morgue right now.” She paid tribute to the people on the ground, the ‘real heroes’, who work round the clock.

Vasquez called for urgent action right, “1.1 degree is already killing us.” She also said that island debts must be wiped out after years of exploitation by the rich and the relentless theft of resources. She ended saying, “We are one Caribbean and we need to support each other. We must share our knowledge.”

Marina Sophia Flevotomas highlighted how refugees are facing only walls and are unable to move freely to escape the harsh realities at home of famine, wars and rising sea levels. “Those creating the walls are the ones causing the migration,” she said.


Marina Sophia Flevotomas

She exposed developed countries for causing these migrations in the first place with an agenda of wealth and this is a total injustice.

Flevotomas made a clear distinction between refugees and climate migrants; refugees relocate with the hope of returning to their home land and climate migrants are internally displaced and can never return home once they are relocated.

Migration was a clear theme in the workshop. Many people are in situations few of us can even imagine. Many are dying on their way to Europe and some before even reaching European borders. Huge investment is spent on militarizing these borders and when migrants reach them they are not welcomed.

“We have created this narrative of fear, that migrants are to be feared and should be barred from entering our countries. We know that developed countries have a responsibility to stop this injustice,” Flevotomas said. She ended with a powerful message, “walls are no solution and climate justice means no walls.”

There are still so many untold stories around the world. “We need to build on these stories and make the connections. Our roots need to be stronger and we need to keep building the movement,” said Karin Nansen, Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

The workshop also touched on how the media is hijacked, politicised and skewed so its narratives do not represent peoples’ voices. Other comments included the rise of the right especially in Europe but also in Asia Pacific. One particularly strong comment from the floor was that borders are racist.

Yuri Onodera ended the workshop briefly highlighting the importance of the next two years. He spoke about the UN Assembly adopting the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and how it has set off an inter-governmental negotiation for global compacts for migration and refugees which will be adopted in 2018. He added, “these negotiations will produce voluntary guidelines to protect migrants’ and refugees’ rights and safety.”

Onodera pointed out that an international mechanism and a human displacement task force established under the UN climate regime. This task force is mandated to produce recommendations for international action next year. These mechanisms are, however, severely under resourced thanks to strong opposition from rich polluter nations who fear the recognition of loss and damages would lead to their culpability and liability for causing the climate crisis.

These same nations have done little or nothing to shoulder their historical responsibilities either by rapidly reducing their deadly emissions or providing necessary resources to assist people suffering on the ground in the Global South.

At the UN climate conference Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific is demanding climate justice. Every single aspect of human rights and the safety and dignity of climate impacted peoples must be protected and respected. The governments of wealthy nations must stop siding with and aiding dirty energy industries, and take their fair-share of responsibility. Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific calls for a fundamental system change to create real, fair and just solutions to save the world.

Theiva Lingam, FoE Asia Pacific Regional Facilitator (FoE Malaysia)
Yuri Onodera, Climate Justice & Energy Steering Group Member (FoE Japan)
November 09, 2017