Nandita Mohan / Staff Photographer

Maria Garcia speaks on refugees and climate change on September 28th Uris Hall.

September 28, 2017

Professor Highlights Implications of Climate Change on Refugees

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Of the 65 million refugees on Earth, many are being displaced by climate change in devastating numbers, according to Prof. Maria Garcia — and that does not seem likely to improve any time soon.

In preparation for her book project, Garcia, American studies, led a discussion on the effects of climate change and the environmental risks it imposes on refugees.

Garcia — who has written three books concerning the refugee crisis and policies — said that in her previous works she discovered that “many of today’s 65 million refugees and internally displaced peoples were initially displaced by environmental conditions. In those cases, the environment had a catalytic effect that exacerbated political conflict.”

A quarter of refugees have been displaced by weather, according to Garcia. She added that The International Organization for Migration and other international relief agencies estimate that there will be 200 million climate refugees by the year 2050.

“It is important to help nations become resilient,” Garcia said. “If nations responded adequately to climate change and assisted their populations to adapt, people would not have to pack up and move away from their homes in events of climate threats.”

Garcia said the United Nations created the Green Climate Fund in 2010. Wealthier nations that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change committed themselves to assist poorer nations, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and assist their populations to become resilient to climate shocks. She added that the Obama Administration committed to contributing $3 billion to the fund, but the Trump Administration recently pulled out of the agreement.

Garcia — who feels that the Trump Administration will not respond to climate refugee issues — believes that “some policy makers are afraid to address climate change because they claim that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have a disastrous effect on the economy, but the U.S. military has taken climate change seriously.”

“The military has been studying climate change because rising sea levels will require a multi-billion-dollar buttressing or relocation of installations,” Garcia said. “Climate change also increases the likelihood of military participation in humanitarian missions and international conflicts.”

Garcia noted that in his May 2014 commencement speech at West Point, President Barack Obama warned the newly commissioned officers that climate change was “a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform.”