Philippe Huguen
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Migration from Africa: a forgotten crisis

Migrants are still dying. 

So the Valletta Summit came and went, and it will soon be forgotten. The one thing it has achieved was putting migration from Africa back in the news for a day or two: while the Syria refugee crisis matters and needs urgent attention, the patterns of migration from Africa are not going to change anytime soon: according to Frontex in 2014 arrivals by sea from Africa accounted for up to 60 per cent of total border admission across Europe. It would be a mistake to think that this is no longer an issue just because right now people are not dying off the coasts of Lampedusa: people are dying in the Sahara in what is probably the most dangerous journey of all. Yet this is a ‘forgotten’ crisis, at least until next spring - and the Action Plan agreed at the Summit is a spectacular failure to do anything about this.   

The most tangible outcome is a not so new - and not so big - EU aid package for Africa: €1.8bn in exchange for easier deportation of economic migrants back to Africa. With remittances to Africa dwarfing aid  by a ratio of nearly three to one and €3bn recently agreed by the EU to support Turkey alone in its response to the refugee crisis, all things considered this deal is not worth much for African leaders, who left Valletta unimpressed and underwhelmed.

What the officials that struck the deal have also overlooked is that even when and if aid ‘works’, to reduce poverty and foster development, it is likely to lead to more, not less migration – at least from the very poorest countries.

Aid – or any form of charity for that matter- also misses a fundamental point of what drives migration.  People move not only to escape war and poverty, but also to fulfil their aspirations to a better life for themselves and for their families. For this reason alone, an action plan grounded in strategy of containment and hand outs is doomed to fail.

Unsurprisingly, much of the language in the plan is weak: the document is peppered with vague and meaningless words like mainstreaming, enhancing and supporting.  The commitments are generic, and where they are specific, they are spectacularly unambitious - charges to remittances to Africa will be cut down to three per cent, but only by 2030. 

And yet, the claims around fighting root causes of migration, from poverty to conflict and human rights abuses, as well as the promise of job creation and economic opportunities all across Africa are dangerously unrealistic and misleading. Addressing these challenges requires political action, not summits or emergency aid. Yet political engagement was not on the cards in Valletta, whether bilaterally between European and Africa countries or through the much anticipated, but currently vacuous ‘European response’ to the migration crisis. 

The limited financial resources and political capital that Europe can offer on migration from Africa would be better spent on more specific and realistic initiatives – such as enhancing legal migration where politically feasible through visas for a variety of migrants, not just students and entrepreneurs, temporary humanitarian visas for refugees fleeing wars and conflict and better, more reliable data, analysis and information especially on the economic benefits of migration.

Well intentioned as it may be, the Valletta Summit was a waste and the EU leaders who called for it have missed an important opportunity to take any meaningful action.

Marta Foresti is Director of Governance, Security and Livelihoods at the Overseas Development Institute.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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