Climate Migrants are Coming Canada Must Prepare

by Ronalee Carey Law

December 2021

In the last few months, Canada has seen the impact of climate change first-hand.  Recent floods in British Columbia displaced 15,000 people.  However, climate change is inequitable.  Other nations will see more significant consequences in the future.  Some are even at risk of ceasing to exist, submerged by rising sea levels.  By 2050, it is estimated that 216 million people will be displaced due to climate change.

The obligations of nations to assist those impacted by climate change were discussed at the recent United Nations Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26). After debate, the following platform statement was pronounced:   Acknowledging that Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on …the rights of migrants…

Despite promises made at COP 26, Canada is ill-prepared for the coming climate migrant crisis. Our legislative framework does not contemplate giving protection to individuals who arrive in Canada after losing their homes due to climate change. We have no special programs in place to resettle displaced individuals.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers encourages Canada to prepare for the inevitable. The group’s 2021 Report on Climate Migrants sets out concrete suggestions for how Canada can respond, including providing Temporary Resident Permits for those impacted by environmental disasters and instructing immigration officials to consider the long-term risks associated with environmental degradation.

The saying, ‘think global, act local’ has never been more apt. Like most first-world countries, Canada is a top emitter of greenhouse gasses. (We come in 9th, globally.) Yet, we will not be the most impacted by climate change. We need to be prepared to share our land with those who are.