Climate migration is our new reality and new responsibility

All across the United States and the world, many of us are coming to understand that more extreme weather means we may need to move out of our homes and communities to find safety.

In a recent survey by Forbes, nearly a third of Americans cited climate change as a reason for moving. In fact, 3.2 million U.S. adults were displaced or evacuated due to a disaster in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Moving is a way many of us will adapt to a changing climate.

As we close out the hottest year on record rife with climate chaos, all eyes are on the U.S. and leaders of other industrialized nations to see if 2024 will finally be the year they step up to tackle the climate crisis. We must act with urgency to transition away from fossil fuels in a just way that protects workers and communities and builds global resilience to adapt to these increasingly frequent and severe climate disasters. A critical part of adaptation is creating safe, orderly and generous migration pathways for people displaced by climate chaos.

As climate change accelerates, this will be the experience of so many others worldwide — displaced and forced to move to find safety somewhere else. As is true in the United States, most people displaced by climate change will move within their own countries, and some will return home eventually, but many will need to move more permanently and cross borders to find safety.

Our immigration policies do not reflect this new reality. The climate-displaced lack formal protection under U.S. or international law, leaving them with few protections and little support.

The majority of Americans believe that Congress must do more to address climate change and support climate solutions across the spectrum — from transitioning to renewable energy like wind and solar to making our communities more resilient to climate impacts through infrastructure investments. But, just like investments in renewable energy or resilient infrastructure, we must see new migration pathways as a solution that our leaders must prepare for and support.

In late 2023, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Climate Displaced Persons Act – a framework for the kind of climate solutions this moment requires. The legislation welcomes the shared responsibility of addressing climate displacement, through both opening up space in the U.S. for climate-displaced people and investing in global climate resilience.

The bill invests in a whole of government approach to boost global climate resilience, helping people stay safely in their homes and communities. Notably, it creates a new coordinator for global climate change resilience and directs the creation of a 10-year Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy. It also creates a new legal migration pathway for at least 100,000 people annually to migrate safely and with dignity to the U.S. when it is no longer possible for them to stay where they are.

While nowhere is spared from climate change’s impacts, countries in the Global South contributed least to the climate crisis, and are where the worst effects are felt. The United States, responsible for around 20 percent of all historic carbon emissions, bears a disproportionate responsibility to address the crisis.

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