Climate migration is already happening — Canada must lead in developing a coherent response

Silent on the impact of increased immigration to Canada on Canada’s climate footprint and how to mitigate it. And would these new classes be part of current and future expected immigration levels or supplemental? Would this approach risk the overall consensus in favour of immigration in Canada?:

Representatives from much of the world gathered in Glasgow to discuss how to respond to the existential impacts of climate change. COP26 brought with it a heightened sense of urgency and the destructive effects of climate change can no longer be ignored, even for the most stubborn amongst us. 

But the consequences of climate change will hit some people harder and many will be forcibly displaced from their homes. Climate migration is projected to create the largest amount of displacement we have seen in modern history. An estimated 216 million people in six regions across the globe will be displaced due to climate change by the year 2050. 

In 2020 alone, over 30 million people were internally displaced by natural disasters. By the end of the century, the homelands of 280 million people could be permanently submerged due to rising sea levels.

Some of the displaced will inevitably find their way to Canada. The need is urgent for Canada to put forward a comprehensive law and policy framework for climate migrants.

We must be better prepared for the inevitable. We must also meet our international law obligations and create meaningful pathways for displaced individuals to find safety within our borders. Canada must lead in developing a coherent response on climate migration.

As the echoes grow louder at COP26 for proactive action on the resettlement of climate migrants and refugees, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has released a new 2021 Report on Climate Migrants to offer a number of policy and legal options for the Canadian government to consider.

Despite the inevitability of climate migration and the known scale of the impending issue facing Canada, there is no comprehensive plan or framework in Canada to address the issue of climate migrants, aside from the brief 2010 background federal report entitled “Climate Change and Forced Migration.” 

However, much has changed since 2010. We know more about the severity of the climate risks faced by millions across the world and we know more about the timing of the impending issues we face as a country. Indeed, the issues posed by climate change and climate migration provide an opportunity by Canada for global leadership on a pressing issue while the numbers of actual climate migrants are presumably low. Canada should act now so that it is able to thoughtfully design and test evidence-based, proactive policy and law.

There are a host of policy and legal options available to Canada in order to address climate migration proactively:

First, Canada can broaden categories for protection by granting “protected person status” to climate migrants, exempting them from the requirement of demonstrating personalized risk given the often generalized nature of climate induced displacement.

Second, Canada can create a public policy class under its humanitarian and compassionate program for persons facing climate disasters. We did this in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and we can test this in the case of climate migrants.

Third, we can expand private refugee sponsorship categories to include a class of individuals who have been displaced by climate change.

Fourth, we can ensure that individuals are not deported from Canada where they do not have a home to return to due to climate induced displacement. The reality is that Canada has options in law and policy, but we must begin doing the work now — and quickly.

Climate migration is inevitable, and its scale is growing by the day. Canada must get ahead of the matter before it is too late.