Brexit means little to refugees prepared to die fleeing climate change

Britain can shut its borders, but it can't alone stop climate change.
 

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It’s June and it’s pouring. In the UK, we have just had the wettest winter on record and are heading for the wettest spring. Globally, NASA tells us that every month since November 2015 has been the hottest since records began. The World Meteorological Organization warned this week that "fundamental change" is now happening in the global climate.

But the large economies and temperate climes of Europe and North America are for now spared the worst of global warming. It is poorer countries who have had no role in pushing up the temperature that are not so lucky.

Africa is experiencing a continent-wide drought – its worst in living memory. International humanitarian relief has come a long way since the days of Live Aid, and famine has been averted in the hotspots of Somalia, Ethiopia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. But millions of farmers are on the move. Most head to the cities and the slums. But others hand over their savings and often their lives on the dangerous crossing from lawless Libya to Europe.

Climate change is making conflicts worse

Low-lying island nations such as the Seychelles, Tuvalu and the Maldives face being wiped off the face of the earth within decades due to sea-level rise.
Climate change is drying up arable land across the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt, once known as the Fertile Crescent and the cradle of civilisation.

The Syrian civil war followed four huge and consecutive droughts. These uprooted 1.5 million farmers, who fled to the cities. They formed a tinder box. And the chaos sown by the US invasion in neighbouring Iraq provided a spark.

Currently, Baghdad suffers eight extreme heat days a year. In the best case scenario, where the average global temperatures is controlled to within two degrees, this will jump to 90 extreme heat days. In other words, this makes Baghdad uninhabitable for humans for a third of the year.

But in the West, instead of clamping down on our carbon emissions that are driving climate change, we are clamping down on helping its victims.

Brexit won't stop climate change

We are told by the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage that by leaving Europe that we can pull up a drawbridge and the immigrants just won’t come.

This is nonsense. Whether we are in or out of Europe, the interconnected forces of climate change, conflict and resource crunch mean that people will flee to stability, and for many, particularly citizens of former British colonies, that inevitably means here. Borders mean little to people who are prepared to die, as estimated 3,500 did trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe last year.

If we are truly interested in slowing immigration we must think long term. That means working with both Europe and the governments and societies of the developing world to address the root causes of instability.

This means ending our multi-billion pound annual subsidy to the multinational fossil fuel industry.

It means mobilising export credit and aid for small scale renewable projects and climate finance for mitigation to create sustainable energy sources. Germany, which is on track to for 45% renewable energy by 2030, and Barbados, which is powered 100% by renewable energy should be our guides in this pursuit.

Lastly, it means recognising that our colonial and industrial history, as well as our role in recent years of destabilising vast areas of the Middle East and North Africa, mean that we have no right to pull up the drawbridge even if we could.

We share a smaller and more globalised world with the men, women and children in the camps of Greece and Calais who have fled war, poverty and climate change. They simply want to contribute to European societies and economies by making something of their lives.

This is a reality that cannot be ignored with an Out vote. If your neighbour’s house is on fire, you will not save yourself – or them – by locking your door.
 

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow home secretary. She was previously shadow secretary for health. 

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