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Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - Climate Migration - the view from COP26

Posted on 03 December 2021

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.

Conversations on the legal topics affecting businesses and individuals today.


Maria Patsalos
In this episode we will be exploring some of the key conversations and findings from our time in Glasgow for COP26 and looking at how the climate migration debate is likely to be framed in the future.  We will also hear from the incredible panellists, activists and general members of the public who attended COP.

Hello and welcome to the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions podcast and to the second episode in the series in climate migration. I am Maria Patsalos, a Partner in the Immigration Team here at Mishcon’s and I am joined in the studio by Becca Hird and Adis Sehic, both Associate Solicitors in the team. Over the course of two weeks a team of us from Mishcon travelled to Glasgow by train to take part in some of the events and discussions happening around COP26.

So what do you both think were the particular highlights for you?

Becca Hird
Being at COP was a really interesting experience. I think everyone will have seen the mainly to be honest, negative press that’s come out of COP26.  On the ground there were really interesting discussions happening. There were both kind of positive and looking forward to solutions and also quite negative I thought. For me it felt like there was a big difference between the blue zone where all the delegates were and the green zone. I don’t know what you guys’ thought but certainly when we spent time in the green zone which for those of you that don’t know, was the kind of open event that was open to the public and ran for the whole length of COP. There, there were lots of people who came from a wide variety of backgrounds, we heard lots from voices from the global south and people who at the moment are really seriously affected by climate change and those voices weren’t always so well heard from the blue zone and from the place where the delegates were and…

Maria Patsalos
Yeah for me it was really unusual how the set up was I mean because obviously it was all of our first COP’s right.

I didn’t know there was such a big gap between the green zone and the blue zone.

Becca Hird
Physical distances as well.

Maria Patsalos
Completely, yeah. It was completely different venues, probably what would you say, a couple of miles apart?

Becca Hird
Yeah, kind of, at least a twenty minute, thirty minute walk away.

Maria Patsalos
Walk yeah, exactly.  So, you’ve got all the delegates like you said in one place and then you’ve got the members of the public in the green zone a couple of miles away and then you’ve got all the protesters on the street. So you’ve got all the three different types of people in the world, all with different voices not necessarily listening to each other. I don’t know, what do you think Adis?

Adis Sehic
I think that’s right, I think it was notable that the atmosphere in those different places that you mentioned was also quite different. Certainly the weekend where the protests were taking place there was quite a… I wouldn’t say it was a hostile atmosphere, but there was definitely a lot of passion on show and actually some of those fringe events that were taking place outside of the main areas of the green zone and the blue zone were the subject of many of the events that were televised to the public at large, so it was definitely a mixed bag.

But one thing for sure is that I think like Becca said, it was definitely a multi-faceted experience. We spoke to so many individuals on the ground.  For me personally, I was really inspired to speak to loads of young people, young activists in this space and actually having the opportunity to speak to and to listen to indigenous communities from around the world who are most affected by climate change and have been directly affected in recent decades was, was definitely eye opening.

Marie Patsalos
I think the other thing that was slightly surprising to me was in the green zone there were lots of private companies having kind of like an exhibition space so you had companies like Sainsbury…

Becca Hird 
BP.

Marie Patsalos 
BP and all of these companies showing these elaborate displays. IKEA! Ikea had a display and I don’t know, I was a bit surprised by that. But I guess one of the big themes of COP especially this year, was the whole idea of getting private businesses involved and so the fact that they were there is positive but what exactly were they doing there other than showing their exhibition?  So hopefully they did more than that and they were engaging with the topic in a more meaningful way.

Becca Hird
Definitely. I think one of the ways that was kind of most keenly made aware to me was the fact that there were big fancy business exhibition stands and then the charities were given kind of these tiny little booths to stand by, I don’t know about you guys, but certainly my most interesting conversations definitely came from the charities where they didn’t have the flashy posters etc.

There was definitely an awareness around the amount of paper and things like that, that was being used so I suppose it’s a good thing the conversations that were most engaging. There were also some amazing other spaces. The New York Times hub that we went to was just incredible, I think it blew us all away. So you walked into this space and it was… they had effectively transported a forest, mainly pine trees I believe, into this warehouse space and the smell was just incredible and actually at the beginning of one of the talks we went to, the person giving the talk said you know, ‘we’re not pumping any kind of smell into this area, this is actually what you’re, what you’re breathing is, is…

Marie Patsalos 
Natural.

Becca Hird
…a natural fumes’. Exactly and that really, it was the most beautiful space.

Marie Patsalos
I completely agree and I actually thought that the green zone would look a little bit more like that. Whereas the green zone looked a little bit more clinical but yeah, The New York Times hub was incredible.

Of course they have a lot more money and you have to pay to go to The New York Times hubs, I think it was like £30 a ticket.  So you can see the investment there whereas the green zone was free.  So you’ve got to be realistic with these things but it was stunning, really stunning.

So, what do you think about some of the panel discussions we saw because we saw a number of discussions and I think Adis, you were lucky enough to even see Nicola Sturgeon at one point?

Adis Sehic
Yeah that’s, that’s right. I was extremely lucky to go to some of the green zone events. In particular, I went to a gender orientated event on Friday where Nicola Sturgeon spoke about the role that Scotland is playing in kind of mitigating the impact that climate change is having on women and girls across the world, particularly mitigating the detrimental impacts that it is having on access to education and accessing resources in that space.

I also found it really interesting to listen to some of the Latin American guests that were there talking about loss and damage and the experiences that they had in, in recent decades of really communities and entire cultures being decimated and what the sort of traditional global North States can be doing to mitigate the impact of climate change there. So yeah, all round definitely some incredible discussions.

Marie Patsalos 
Great and of course we were speaking at COP. We had a panel discussion ourselves. In fact, we had two! But one that we were speaking at and the second one we were sponsoring. So Becca, do you want to tell us a bit about those?

Becca Hird
Yeah, so there was a presentation on the Monday which was for the Mishcon led Global Youth Climate Enquiry which effectively summarised the submissions of over twenty youth activists in the area of climate change and put this into a really powerful report which set out the effects of climate change on young people.

The event space was amazing, it was held on a ferry and was organised by One Young World who are a kind of global non-profit that champions the young talent from different sectors to advance social issues and Extreme International who are kind of a purpose driven company. It was also, it was live streamed to the world. Maria was one of the esteemed panellists and it was hosted by my colleague, Al Agnew. It was a really, really lively and interesting debate. It included twenty one year old Kehkashan Basu, who we will hear from later because we interviewed her for this podcast.  She first set up her NGO, the Green Hope Foundation when she was 12 years old so a really impressive human and spoke just so amazingly and strongly and passionately about her Foundation which operates across continents, it really is incredible.

I would encourage everyone to have a look at the Global Youth Climate Enquiry, it should be on our website I believe and it just really highlights the role that young people have to play in the climate change debate. I think that’s one thing that we were really keen to do while we were there, was to ensure that the voices of young people were heard and that their voices were amplified because you know, it’s young people’s future and they really need to be listened to and are so often not consulted and not listened to in the international debate and certainly in the blue zone so it was a really fascinating event. We also, we spoke to some really interesting people there who we will hear from later in the podcast.

Marie Patsalos
Yeah absolutely. I mean it was pretty daunting being on that panel I have to say but the second event that we sponsored was also connected to the, the Global Youth Climate Enquiry and we had Kehkashan sitting on that panel representing the Mishcon group and that was a really interesting panel, it was also in relation to Amal, the puppet which we are going to talk about as well later in the podcast and what was really interesting about that panel was that it was pretty much the only one that really focussed on climate migration.

Certainly, that we heard but also that we saw advertised. We just, it just wasn’t on the agenda which was something we talked about last time. But this panel discussion, which was packed by the way, it was over a hundred people attended in person, let alone those online and it was a really interesting debate but it did get interrupted – it was annoying because it interrupted the really interesting debate that the panellists were having – but I think it is symptomatic of an issue, a wider issue. Do either one of you want to kind of explain what happened with the interruption?

Becca Hird
Yeah I mean it’s one of those things where you don’t want to give too much voice to the kind of protests that happen in these kinds of things but it was a disgruntled person and it was definitely symptomatic of the issues that migrants and refugees face in this space and I think it really brought to the fore for all of us this idea that you cannot separate climate migration from the refugee plight.

It’s a shame that climate migration wasn’t discussed as its own issue so much I think during COP. It was disappointing to see but what I was encouraged by was the fact that it did feature alongside quite a lot of the discussions, so I think it is quite often seen as a part of the puzzle but as a result of which people don’t really think about solutions. So, I think that it kind of echoed what we already had felt and thought before COP but that interaction actually made it all the more real.

Adis Sehic
I think that point, Becca, about awareness is an interesting one. In some ways it is not surprising but still startling how little explicit conversation there was about climate migration particularly in the main green zone. There was obviously more in some of the fringe events and in some of the sort of ancillary conversations that were being had around the event spaces but given the scale of the issue I think everyone wants climate migration to be on the agenda more.  We actually spoke to one COP attendee about the issue of climate migration and sort of what their awareness had been of the issue leading up to the events at COP and what they thought could be done to, to move the issue up the agenda.

COP Attendee - Joey
I don’t know too much about climate migration but as I understand it, it’s about the movement of people across regions or across countries due to the impacts of climate change and there is a lot, such a variety of impacts that can cause climate migration and I think that often it is talked about in terms of it being like a theft, like if you don’t act, expect climate migrants on your door and I don’t think people really actually talk about it in terms of the details of the issue but also the, the ways that we can tackle it, the causes and the action that people can take and the things we can do to set up frameworks and projects that can try and mitigate the effects.

I think that in the not too distant future we will need to be kind of acting in so many different ways with financial assistance, with community projects in destination countries.  I think it will be so far reaching.  In the short-term I think it’s really important that we have a conversation about this and its gets talked about more and we try to understand.  Also who we think will be impacted and how we can help those people and how we can, I suppose, tackle climate migration that’s happening already.

Marie Patsalos
I think the point that Joey mentioned there about threat was a really interesting one.  There’s threat and kind of wilful ignorance, even of our own Prime Minister in the days leading up to COP attributed the fall of Rome to uncontrolled migration which really feeds into this kind of damaging political narrative about those who cross borders and seek refuge.  I think there was also a really  interesting point in that about the lack of awareness which seems to be a really common theme for those who are attending COP, both casually and those more experienced in the climate change debate and the associated circles around that.  Adis spoke to John Elkington, world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable capitalism about the issue of climate migration.

John Elkington
I don’t think it’s been particularly present here and I think the forced migration issue has been marginal for a very long period of time.  I think if people like Crispen Tickell talked about environmental refugees about 20 years ago and it hasn’t main streamed to date but it’s beginning to change and I think people are increasingly aware that whether it was Syrian refugees or, or whatever it might be that environmental factors including climate are starting to force people to uproot and move.  And if you think about our evolution as a species, we very often have been forced to migrate and not just around Ice Ages but the climate has often shifted but now we’re putting that on steroids so whether people have heard of the concepts on migration of refugees and the rest of it yet, I don’t think it matters.  They are going to hear about it in very short order.

Adis Sehic
I think that’s a really interesting perspective and in terms of today at COP26 it is sort of financial loss and adaptation day and there have been a lot of discussions in the green zone this morning, there was a, a talk about loss and relief in the context of Latin America.  Where do you see the sort of proposed solution to this issue going?  Is it strictly a legal one, is it a case of getting parties round the table and looking at creating a workable definition that might facilitate protection for these displaced communities or is it something that is going to be more holistic and perhaps involve yeah a real look at financial assistance packages for the most affected?

John Elkington
Well in a way it has to be all of those clearly and I think one of our problems is that we tend to see what is happening for example, in Bangladesh and the Sundarbans, something that is impossibly remote, it’s other people.  The fact that our lifestyles and emissions are starting to really forcefully impinge on people in that part of the world.  The record is not good in terms of our being able to think proactively about how we support populations in stress like that until it’s too late in some ways, they turn up on our border in inflatable boats or, or whatever so yes we need legal redefinitions, yes we need governance mechanisms, we need Governments to come together but actually fundamentally, we need to see the people who are being dispossessed as humans and treat them as such.

So one part of this has to be how do you train border patrols and people like this to not exactly welcome because you don’t want a complete tsunami of people coming in but not to dehumanise people and, and I think the law has a very important role to play in that as well to make sure that where people are for whatever reason abused, there is some legal redress open to them and at the moment that’s, that’s either through NGO’s, I just think it should be a more systematic approach to making sure that people are treated as humanely as we possibly can treat them while we do the other piece which is trying to make sure that our emissions are radically reduced so this problem itself is at least if not radically significantly reduced over time.

Maria Patsalos
John raised some really interesting points.  His main point about climate issues being something that happens over there and not here is something that is, is very real. I mean, I was having dinner with a group of my Uni friends just this week and I mentioned, I’d been to COP and they were very interested to hear about it but ultimately they did say, ‘well we don’t feel climate change, we don’t feel impacting us so it’s hard’ and you know, they said, ‘oh don’t get me wrong, I do all the things, I recycle’, one of the even had solar panels on her house so they tick all the boxes in this kind of way but at the same time they don’t see the importance and the drastic situation that is upon people in the Global South.

I mean, just like me they didn’t even know the term ‘Global South’ before we looked into this topic so even on a small level, us educating our friends and family will have a big impact, but John is right in the sense that until something happens more locally close to home, not only will the politicians not do something about it, but also people are unlikely to care about it which is very sad. Only very recently we had the situation of the thirty or so migrants who sadly lost their lives trying to cross the Channel which included young children and so this is a really difficult topic, but I think like I said, education is key and trying to engage the politicians and making sure that they know that there are people that care about this because it’s all linked.

Becca Hird
I think one of the really big challenges that we face with this climate migration project is the issue of how the public perceives refugees.  I think when we talk about climate migration it’s an issue that really does affect everyone but like you said, it’s not happening on our doorstep in the same way that it’s happening in the Global South and that’s not to say it won’t happen and that it isn’t happening but it’s just not… people aren’t drawing those connections and I think there’s a real difficulty in trying to you know, advance this issue when there is such a hostile reception to refugees particularly in the UK and the current political climate.

Maria Patsalos
Definitely and things are happening, it’s just like you say, they’re not connecting them so we’ve had floods, we’ve had all sorts, fires, all in Europe.

Becca Hird
Yep.

Maria Patsalos
But yet people are not putting the dots together and thinking, hang on this is due to climate change, this is because of the way we’re acting, this is something that we need to change sharpish.

Becca Hird
We can obviously do our own little bit. I think the real disappointment that came from COP was the lack of any kind of legislation or, or action plan with any teeth that came from the delegates at the blue zone.  So much of what came out of COP was vague promises to start dialogues, you know, talked about loss and damage earlier. There was no number put on how we are going to compensate those people who have already suffered. It was, we are going to open dialogues and I think there needs to be some more concerted action, some more numbers put on targets than there were currently and I think that’s where a lot of, a lot of disappointment and a lot of disengagement comes from, is this kind of woolly language that’s used to describe something that needs to change dramatically now.

Maria Patsalos
Yeah well Greta called the whole thing ‘blah, blah, blah’ didn’t she.

Becca Hird
She did.

Maria Patsalos
It pretty much sums it up.

Adis Sehic
I think the point you raised there about finances and financial compensation is quite a good one to transition into because often in the loss and relief debate people want to establish a figure or a single number but often states or leaders who are thinking about this issue don’t really delve into the nuance that the damage that has been caused to ultimately numerous communities is multi-faceted and it involves the loss of rich culture and rich historical pasts that ultimately you can’t necessarily put a financial value on.

Becca Hird
I think it is also the case that there’s difficulty sometimes, in fact most of the time, in isolating the impact of climate change from other social, economic, political you know, local, very local issues and so this isn’t an issue that can be solved, you are right, by putting a figure on it and I think we really saw those tensions come out but there were lots of really interesting propositions from people and you know, when you hear about people’s individual stories as we did, you know, from the people that we heard, spoke from their experiences in Latin America for example, you realise just how far reaching this issue is and the really detrimental impact that it has and so it was, it was disappointing to see that, that kind of loss and damage wasn’t really reflected in the discussions.

Adis Sehic
You are right Becca, I think the intersectional nature of this debate is often lost on, on us all really. We actually spoke to Kehkashan Basu who you mentioned earlier on. She is an incredibly inspirational young person, she is the Founder of the Green Hope Foundation who work across the globe providing relief and educational resources to communities that are affected by the effects of climate change. Kehkashan gave a really interesting perspective on how to look at the issue of climate migration and what we need to think about moving forward when talking about solutions in this area.

Kehkashan Basu
Climate migration is something that my organisation does work to address and a lot of our work is with those who have been negatively impacted by climate change and have had to migrate in order to find better lives.

For us it’s really looking at climate change through that intersectional lands where we recognise how climate change impacts human beings and how women and girls are the ones really affected the most because a lot of the communities that we work in when the villages are affected by climate change, the men migrate out of the villages and leave behind the women and the girls and a lot of the other communities that we work in, the women and girls are the ones who have to migrate to find better lives, to fine sources of water, food, so for us it’s really a multi-dimensional issue.

It’s not easy to define in that particular sense but what can help in that definition is recognising the intersections that are there. I think every sector has a role to play, the legal sector, the financial private sector, Government, even civil society because you know, any policy that is there and put in place has to be implemented on the ground by civil society and you know, this issue of lack of addressing climate migration that is no different and what we really need right now is not just look at climate change in just the facts and figures and cold hard facts, it’s the human and the planetary impacts that come with it and we do need that more holistic approach definitely so it’s really everyone’s responsibility because it’s, our fellow human beings who are being affected.

Once we are able to do that and we really bring our unique talents to the table and see how best we can work together, I am sure we will be able to find a way to address it and most importantly, understand there is not a one size fits all solution that’s going to you know, solve all of the problems because even in climate migration you have different people facing different levels of challenges, different… completely different challenges depending on where they are so yeah, we need to move away from that and just, that has to be the common factor, that it’s not a one size fits all solution, we need to find those localised unique challenges and address them with those localised unique solutions.

Becca Hird
I think the focus of gender there highlighted by Kehkashan is a really important one. It highlights the need to look at the issue really holistically as she said, it’s a global but it’s also a local issue. The idea of it being not one size fits all is also really interesting and I know we spoke to a few people who spoke to the point that it’s not always a long-term displacement, sometimes its shorter-term displacement and we really need to think about it from a local level just as much as we do a global one.

Maria Patsalos
Yeah I completely agree. I think what she was saying about it’s not a one size fits all situation and you have to take into account local issues, is something that we can see in Africa in particular where they’ve set up something called IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and what this is is an eight country trade block and they have agreed between themselves to deal with the issue of climate change and climate migration. In fact they have a free movement of people on the basis of climate change so they have opened up their doors as it were to allow people of their neighbouring countries to come and live in their own country on the basis of any climate related issues which I think is fascinating and something that the rest of the world can learn from.

Adis Sehic
We’ll hear more about displacement in the context of the African continent later on in this podcast.  We spoke to Kumi Naidu who gave an incredibly inspiring interview to us. I think the one thing that we found at COP, certainly hearing from indigenous communities from around the world and indeed those who have been affected by the issue of climate migration, the one common theme between them is that they are all incredibly proud of where they come from and they are not initially looking to move away from these areas that have been plentiful and have provided them with resources and habitat for some times hundreds and even thousands of years.

The circumstances of migration are forced upon them by the impacts of climate change.  On the flip side, there are many communities who do not want to be victimised in this debate, they are communities who have agency and have exercised agency in the past and they don’t necessarily want to be marginalised or stigmatised in the way that often the refugee narrative has been played out in the media and in society more generally.

Becca Hird
We spoke to a really diverse range of people at COP and I think that’s something really positive that we all took away from it. You know, we spoke to lots of people from indigenous communities and we also spoke to royalty, Princess Marie Esméralda of Belgium actually listened to one of our talks, she was in the audience and one of the speakers later on said, ‘I think we’ve got the Princess here’ and it was only then that you know, her presence was brought to everyone’s attention. She is a journalist, author and climate activist as well as royalty who we were really, really lucky to be able to interview.

Princess Marie Esméralda
I think people don’t realise that we will have an enormous amount of climate migration because you have also to realise that people don’t like to leave their home country or their house or their families and so when they migrate it is really because they are obliged to do so.

I know very well for example, central America where for already decades people are having to leave the country because not only about economical situation but because of the climate destroying their crops, destroying their lives so they have no other way but to migrate and we must understand that, that human factor. We have to realise that migration is also loss and damage so the need for the rich county to understand that and to give funding is very important because we will have more and more, and we have to address this as well. So, both the human side is important but obviously the financial side is essential.

Maria Patsalos
I think what Princess Esméralda was saying about the funding is interesting because of course towards the end of COP Boris announced that there was going to be a 1 billion fund in relation to climate crisis but this has to be counter balanced with the fact that he cut foreign aid only a few months earlier and he caveated this extra billion on the basis that it would only be available if the UK economy bounces back so it’s not looking promising.

Becca Hird
I think that leads into the point that for many companies addressing issues relating to climate change including the issue of migration isn’t and shouldn’t be something that’s just for show or a form of kind of climate signalling.  It should be a tangible part of investment and business strategy that more shareholders and more and more stakeholders are really interested in in putting pressure on companies to kind of diversify and also to hold accountable their supply chains. This dynamic was explored really eloquently by Alisan Porter and Kimberly Marie Pavia, both at Janus Henderson who we were really lucky to hear speak and who we spoke to after their panel discussion at COP.

Alisan Porter and Kimberly Marie Pavia
We think about alignment and climate change and its impacts in a holistic term, we haven’t labelled it as climate migration before, haven’t heard that as a term.  I watched a panel with Malala Yusafzai and she talked about I think her Foundation had estimated that this year 4 million women would be displaced from education because of climate change, of floods and that would by 2025, they estimated that was going to go up to 12 million.

What we do as active investors is we are engaging with companies and we are trying to provide alignment across because there’s that alignment of climate change, with social educational issues but we want companies to feel like their returns and their long-term futures are also aligned with that so as investors we are trying to push for even large companies to provide appropriate disclosures, transparency but also aligning the executive compensation that they have with achieving some of their climate targets, achieving some other social benefits. That’s part of what’s been really exciting about so many of the panels at COP, has been bringing together people from finance, from start-up companies, from education, from different walks of life because that’s what we really need is, is that alignment across so many different aspects of legal from you to, to really effect change.  It’s that alignment that will really help us get there.

Alisan Porter and Kimberly Marie Pavia
I think what is really important with climate migration is looking at the scope of the problem and understanding that while we might only have hopefully 1.5 degrees warming, that doesn’t mean that local areas might have more extreme weather events, might have more extreme issues and so one of the things that we do when we engage with companies is what’s really important is to understand where the companies are actually located, what activities they are doing in those specific locations and how the locations are placed, not just from a carbon perspective, but also water, bio-diversity and the people living there because obviously we have local issues already, we already have the first climate change induced famine in Madagascar.

We are already having floods and wildfires in Germany and Australia and so we really need to understand the companies locations and that data isn’t always available so I think as investors our responsibility is to engage with these companies and to help them on their journey. Not only demand from them to be carbon neutral by a certain date or to reduce their emissions but also for them to understand and give them best practice of how we can implement that, how we can collect data, how we can actually look at the wider social implications of climate change and also connect those to other areas that we need to focus on, things like biodiversity or things like education.

Adis Sehic
I think we’ve spoken so far about the financial and human sides of any prospective solutions to do with climate migration but one thing we haven’t really touched on is legal protections and what protection in that context might look like.  As we know the term climate refugee is and has been controversial in this debate because the circumstances of many climate migrants don’t necessarily fall within the confines of the Refugee Convention however given that climate migration has and will be an issue that affects millions of people, I think there is a certain amount of unease that we all get talking about millions of people being displaced but without any chances of their identification, and protection.

A lot of climate migration also happens internally within countries and part of the debate in the legal protection side of things is looking at how you create a framework that works to cover internal displacement but also external displacement. Maria mentioned initiatives in Africa that were looking to deal with issues of climate change and migration on a more cohesive level and we spoke to Kumi Naidu about this issue in the context of the African continent. Kumi is a human rights and environmental activist and he is also the former international executive director of Greenpeace and the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Kumi Naidu
The real story in Africa is that most people migrate to another African country so if you look at Kenya and how many migrants for a range of reasons including climate, why people end up in camps which are like million strong in themselves then you look at the numbers that are being absorbed in Europe, it’s almost negligible. So I believe that migration is a legitimate expression of climate adaptation.

We have to be able to support people whose livelihoods, whose soil, whose ability to grow food, whose ability to survive has been completely decimated and even it wasn’t the case that the countries responsible are the countries that could be more generous in terms of migration, even if that was not the case. Which it is the case, then from a purely human, humanity perspective, from a compassionate perspective, this is something that should be embraced right?  So therefore I think it is very important that we begin to think about how we deal with the legal narrowness of how refugees are considered because in terms of the Refugee Convention, climate induced migration is not accepted as part of legitimate.

So right now given the scale of it, I believe that the Refugee Convention needs to accommodate the fact that people don’t have any choice because basically if you are saying that people can leave their own countries because of repression, because of discrimination and so on, how can you say to people, you need to stay there even though you are going to absolutely die. It just doesn’t make sense as Kofi Annan taught me in a conversation I had with him shortly before he died, said when refugees come, they come with more than what they have on their back.

Albert Einstein was a refugee right? There are many, many Einstein’s in refugee camps all over the world.  I have met some of them who live in the most atrocious conditions but their resilience, their ability to survive and so on is moving to me and I think especially given that developed, so called developed countries are the ones that have contributed most to the accumulation of carbon, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to support those people who are paying the first and most brutal impacts from climate change.

Becca Hird
Kumi spoke there about internal displacement. The majority of climate migrants are internally displaced rather than displaced across borders and so I think it is really difficult to consider the scale of the problem when you can’t disassociate the reasons for moving.  You know, you’ve climate, War, famine, economic, social issues; they all have their part to play.  The other thing that I think is really important to, to touch on is the idea that this is also something that affects the UK.  Particularly because of our status as an island and the significant amounts of rainfall that we’ve had recently.  So there were those examples of rainfall and displacement in Cumbria and in West Yorkshire and we’ve got a village in Wales in Fairbourne which I don’t know if you’ve heard of but it is being touted as ‘the source of the UK’s first climate refugees’ because there are reports that the area could be completely decommissioned by 2054 due to the effects of climate change.

Maria Patsalos 
I’ve definitely not heard of it but I have since reading all these articles, it’s really quite shocking and I think most people in the UK would have no clue that this is going on.

Becca Hird
Absolutely.  We also spoke to Sophie Cowen while we were at COP.  She’s the Founder and Campaign Director of Switch It who spoke to us about the changes that need to happen in thinking when it comes to the issue of climate migration.

Sophie Cowen
I think so much of the climate world needs to look at reframing the issues and bringing it kind of home so what if your friend in say, West London or you know, Yorkshire has lost their whole home because it’s been flooded by the extreme weather that we have had in the UK over the last couple of years? If that person then has to move, they are technically a climate migrant or a climate you know, even refugee because they are refuging, they are escaping from somewhere where they can’t live anymore.  So although those people’s experiences aren’t nearly as extreme as those of people in say Madagascar, we are still seeing people having to move because of the climate crisis even in this country and in the UK. We need to start understanding each other on a human level, recognising that a climate migrant is a human just like your next-door neighbour. It shouldn’t be difficult but apparently it is! So how do we platform stories of people who are being displaced, but in a way that is more accessible to people in the countries that can really make a difference.

Maria Patsalos
I think it is fair to say that this is such an all-encompassing issue and one that is going to have tangible effects on so many communities around the world including the UK as Becca said in relation to that community in Wales. Many of us know how hard it is first hand through ourselves, friends, colleagues about the challenges of moving house let alone moving to an entirely different place on the basis of climate change with no or little economic backing or substance in relation to that move.

I do think we’ve been talking a lot about the problems and the frustrations in relation to this issue of climate change and climate migration but, but we did speak to a lot of people who are positive and hopeful and, and if there was one message that we took away from COP and the climate migration debate it, it’s about kindness and humanity. These words kept coming up and being able to relate to our fellow humans. This was really succinctly summarised by Onjali Rauf who was very impressive as a speaker and she’s the best-selling author of ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ as well as the Founder of the NGO, Making Herstory.

Onjali Rauf
Number one, get rid of your fears. There is nothing scary about a human being in need no matter what their skin colour is, no matter if they don’t speak the same language as you, that’s someone in need so you dig down deep and get rid of your fears. Number two, if you see reports, news stories, whatever it is, misusing words, trying to represent people in a really negative way, we’ve been there before in history, we keep saying never again but we are doing it right now to millions around the world who are trying to get to somewhere safe and it’s not a crime, it is not a crime so get rid of all of that and yeah, you have the power to be a friend to someone. If you ever have the opportunity to be that friend, then take it. Your world will change for the better as well – trust me.

Maria Patsalos
Well I think that message is a perfect place to wrap up.  So that was a whistle stop tour of our time at COP26 in Glasgow and some of the most important conversations that we were able to have on climate migration. I am Maria Patsalos joined by Becca Hird and Adis Sehic and this was the second episode in a series of podcasts on the issues of climate migration.  Do look out for the next episode I this series where we will be discussing legal frameworks that exist around the issue of climate migration and what legal solutions might be relevant and addressing it in the future.

The Digital Sessions are a new series of online events, videos and podcasts all available at mishcon.com and if you have any questions you’d like answered or suggestions of what you would like us to cover, do let us know at digitalsessions@mishcon.com.  Until next time, take care.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit Mishcon.com.

Our Climate Migration podcast looks at the rapidly growing issue of people being displaced due to climate change and the resulting migration around the world.

In the second episode, recorded at COP26, Maria Patsalos, Adis Sehic and Becca Hird look at why more people – and governments – need to be talking about climate migration.

They explore why the matter isn't higher on the agenda of meetings such as COP26 and the responsibility the Global North has in assisting those nations most at risk. They also discuss the disproportionate effect climate change has on young people around the world.


Visit the Mishcon Academy for more learning, events, videos, podcasts and reports.

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