The World Bank recommended that Australia and New Zealand should allow open migration from Pacific island nations that are sinking beneath the waves as sea levels rise due to climate change, in order to prevent a more chaotic refugee crisis in the coming years.
As climate migrants are already arriving on antipodean shores, the issue is increasingly front of mind amongst policy makers in these countries, but Canada, far away from the frontlines of the disaster, has so far done little to address the subject.
A policy paper released by the global financial institution recommends that as part of a structured migration programme, citizens of the atolls of Tuvalu and Kiribati, the two worst hit islands, be offered ‘open access migration’, meaning freedom to take jobs and permanently settle in Australia and New Zealand. Current populations of the two island nations number around 10,000 and 112,000 respectively.
In 2010, a Canadian Library of Parliament briefing note estimated the number of people who would be forced to migrate due to climate change in the hundreds of millions, although it acknowledged exact forecasts were difficult. The brief recommended that Canada immediately put in place an “orderly and effective response to the coming crisis.” Increasing the number of climate refugees admitted to Canada is one possible response to consider, but in some cases, the migration may be a result of a developing country unable to adapt to the changing conditions. In such cases, another option would be for Canada to provide development assistance to strengthen coastal defences or to enable them to resettle refugees in new areas within their own country. At the same time, noted the researcher, Canada could stand to gain from a new influx of migrants, although some costs would be initially associated with helping them integrate, especially in cases where they speak neither English nor French.
Simon Fraser University health sciences researcher Tim Takaro produced a more comprehensive review of Canada’s immigration policies in 2014 to explore how they could be re-worked to support climate migrants, with special reference to the British Columbian context.
The report, “Preparing BC for Climate Migrants”, identified three key shortcomings of the current approach. First, federal and provincial government and the administrators of core social services have yet to plan for climate migrants. Secondly, immigration and refugee policy and practice are not currently designed to take into account climate change as a driver of migration. Finally, the issue presents a need for the government to ramp up settlement support, while acknowledging that organisations that would provide this are already stretched thin.
The report recommends that Canada create a new immigration class of “climate migrants”, and set specific targets for absorption to make sure that the country takes in its fair share of refugees. In addition, they recommend that key services, in particular legal, housing and education, be made available to the migrants, with additional funding provided to service providers to reduce the strain they already face.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.