The United States Has Massive Climate Debt – One Way to Pay It


By Jeremy Deaton

By facilitating the migration of people to the United States, President Biden could provide a much needed boost to countries hard hit by climate change.

The United States has generated more heat-trapping carbon pollution than any other country, but it hasn’t felt the impact of climate change in the same way. The poorest countries in the warmer latitudes experience the most devastating droughts, heat waves and severe storms, and as a result see more poverty, disease and massive migration. By doing so much to fuel climate change, the United States has incurred massive debt to the developing world, and there’s no easy way to pay off the balance.

President Biden is trying, but in a country that is widely opposed to increased foreign assistance, he faces significant obstacles to increasing aid. He recently pledged to spend $ 5.7 billion a year to help developing countries cope with climate change, but that is nowhere near enough, as critics quickly pointed out. The White House, however, is also exploring other, less direct means of providing relief, including a major change in immigration policy that could provide a measurable boost to countries hard hit by climate disasters.

Biden recently asked his national security adviser to study ways to resettle those displaced by climate change, while Democrats in Congress introduced a bill that would create a way for climate migrants to settle. in the USA. Such protections would benefit not only the migrants themselves, but also the countries they have left behind. By settling in richer countries in colder regions, migrants have the opportunity to earn more money and send part of their paychecks to their families at home. Research shows that, through remittances, they can help people in developing countries better manage the fallout from climate disasters.

For a 2018 study, researchers at the University of Ghana asked residents how they are using remittances to tackle climate change. Fishermen facing dwindling fish stocks used the remittances to buy new nets and repair canoes, while producers facing less predictable rainfall built water tanks and purchased fertilizer. A man used the money his nephew sent him to buy a cell phone so he could get weather updates and know when to plant his crops. Another used the money his son sent him to make small loans to cashew farmers, which allowed him to help local producers while making a small profit. The results, the authors wrote, “should spark a new global debate on climate refugees.”

By providing regular cash transfers, climate migrants can provide their loved ones with a basic income, enabling them to pay for food, shelter and medical care, even in the midst of a disaster or economic downturn. Migrants can also directly fund climate change protection projects, such as new wells to help farmers cope with droughts or dikes to protect against flooding.

A recent Princeton University study modeled future migration in a world with more open borders and a world with closed borders to compare the movement of people and the flow of remittances. As might be expected, they found that in a world with more open borders, more people would migrate from Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific to Europe and the United States to escape. to climate change. The effect of the resulting remittances would be profound.

While climate change is expected to slow GDP in developing countries, allowing people to move more freely around the world would lessen the blow. The study determined that more open borders could increase GDP per capita in Central America and Southeast Asia by more than 2% when migrants transfer money home.

Of course, remittances are far from a perfect, if not sufficient, way to help poorer countries cope with climate disasters. As long as climate migrants send money home, they will have to work harder to build wealth in their adopted countries. Indeed, they will continue to bear the burden of climate change. But given that climate migration is inevitable – and already happening – remittances are just one more reason to allow people uprooted by disasters to immigrate to the United States.

By 2050, climate change could displace up to 3.9 million people in Mexico and Central America. In a new white paper on Central American migrations, experts from Harvard Law School, Yale Law School and the University Network for Human Rights are calling on lawmakers to create a temporary visa for people displaced by climate change, and this visa could offer a path to a green card or a citizenship. Biden could defend this model.

Politically, such a step would be difficult. On a few other issues, Democrats and Republicans are more divided than on climate change and immigration. Republicans are very skeptical, to say the least, of both. Facilitating the movement of climate migrants to the United States would likely generate strong Republican opposition. And in an age of negative partisanship, Democrats’ success in the 2022 midterm election may depend less on mobilizing friendly voters than not giving Republicans a reason to go to the polls.

At the same time, Biden has vowed to take a government approach to the climate crisis. This means using all available levers of power to tackle the problem, including updating immigration policy. Basically, by providing a safe haven for climate migrants, he would be able to reaffirm US leadership on a key issue.

A UN panel ruled last year that countries cannot deport refugees who face immediate threats from climate change in their home countries, but the decision is non-binding and it’s unclear who should be considered a climate refugee. The issue is so thorny that no country currently offers formal protection to people displaced by climate change.

The United States could be the first to create a model for other rich countries to follow. It would likely be an administrative and politically costly challenge, but it would also help settle America’s climate debt.

Article courtesy of Nexus Media.

Featured Image: Immigrants who become US citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, December 15, 2015. Credit: Pete Souza / White House

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