COP28 – Migration Put in Perspective

Dec 10, 2023 | Blog |

By Bobby Watson, Texas Impact (Texas Interfaith Power & Light)

One of the interesting aspects of COP is its ability to put certain issues into perspective. Often, US and Texas officials characterize migration as a foreign phenomenon, where political fragility or economic strife causes residents of the Global South to migrate to the US for safety. There is a clear distinction between “migrants” and US citizens. In reality, forced displacement is not something the US is exempt from — if we do not address our fossil fuel emissions and start a green transition soon, Americans themselves could start becoming climate migrants. 

The displacement of people globally has been on the rise. We can attribute increases to a variety of reasons, including war or economic insecurity. However, the fastest-growing contributing cause of displacement is climate change. Climate shocks include a variety of situations, such as droughts, floods, extreme heat, storms, and reduced access to food and water. All of these situations are induced or intensified by climate change. 

Last year, 2022, set a record for internal displacements caused by climate disasters at 32.6 million worldwide. Some estimates predict that by 2050 there will be over 1 billion people displaced by climate change. Climate disasters are going to continue to increase everywhere. Parts of the US are expected to be particularly vulnerable to climate shocks, including Texas. Such disasters not only destroy homes but also have serious detrimental effects on economic output. Texas in particular, could see a reduction in economic production by 8% in some scenarios due to increased heat and loss of water. There is a future where Texans could become displaced. 

Texas has to reexamine its migration paradigm. Texas’ current policies are focused on fear-mongering, not real problems. If Texas does not change how it views migration, addressing not only racial prejudices associated with the Global South but also who is potentially vulnerable to migratory forces, then we will have a harsh reckoning down the line.

For example, Texas just approved $1.54 billion in appropriations for border wall barriers and security last special session. $1.5 billion is appropriated for border barriers specifically, which have shown to have little efficacy in reducing immigration and, in some cases, lead to harm or death of migrants. An additional $40 million is appropriated for state troopers to patrol Colony Ridge — a largely Hispanic town victim to conspiracy theories claiming it is a growing cartel and drug hub. The claims led to a special committee hearing at the Texas legislature, which was a substance-lacking, bizarre affair at best. Texas is spending billions of dollars on conspiracy theories and ineffective policies. 

To put those figures into the context of COP28, the US pledged $17.5 million to the Loss and Damages fund, a fund made operational at the beginning of COP28 to send money to developing countries facing the worst of the climate crisis. Texas is spending 88 times the US’s pledge to the Loss and Damage fund on political posturing. The discrepancies between how much the US and Texas are investing, while done by different governmental bodies, highlight how our officials’ priorities are inversed. 

There is an immediate need to create safe pathways for mobility across the world, both internally and externally — not just for equitable justice but as an imperative to address rapidly changing weather. People are going to need to move. If we are to address the coming changes adequately, we have to shed our preconceived notions around migration. Adapting our systems not only means transitioning to green energy, but also changing our local and international systems to conform to a new reality. That means addressing more human movement, restructuring food systems, and adjusting lifestyles. These changes will have to happen at some point—the question is whether or not we choose when. 

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