Canada and BC unprepared for climate-based migration: CCPA study

Paper explores issues that must be addressed in anticipation of climate migrants
November 5, 2014

(Vancouver) A paper released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives illuminates a gap in our thinking and our policies at the intersection of climate change and immigration. Preparing BC for Climate Migration examines current policies and practices relating to climate migrants—people who, due to the effects of climate change, are displaced from their homes.

While Canada has contributed more than its fair share of emissions that cause climate change, the harshest impacts of climate change are being felt by people in the poorest counties who have contributed the least to the problem.

The study identifies three key shortcomings:

  • Neither our governments, nor the leadership of our health, housing and other core social services, are considering, let alone planning for, what climate migration may require of our health, housing and other core social services.
  • Immigration and refugee policy and practice are not currently designed to accommodate the underlying reality of climate change and migration;
  • More migrants will require enhanced settlement and other social services, but service-provider organizations are already stretched thin.

According to SFU Faculty of Health Sciences professor, and report co-author Tim Takaro, “Canada has a moral responsibility to people who migrate due to climate change—not just as a matter of charity or generosity, but of justice and reparation as well. The federal and provincial governments, rather than ignoring the issue, should develop a comprehensive policy framework to manage climate migration.”

“Currently, the services and organizations that help to settle immigrants are already under stress from inadequate funding—they are barely been getting by. Yet, the demands on them will only grow.”

Tens of thousands of people are already on the move due to climate change, and that number stands to increase substantially. Canada’s leadership must begin a serious conversation about how we will take responsibility and prepare, both structurally and culturally, for the inevitability of climate migration.

In particular, the report recommends Canada create a new immigration class of “climate migrants” along with targets and programs to ensure Canada absorb its fair share of those migrants. Key services—including legal, housing and education—should be made available to these migrants, and funding should be allocated to reduce strain on these already-overloaded systems.

As Mohammed Zaman of the Society for Bangladeshi Climate Justice states, “Canada’s immigration numbers have remained stagnant for two decades. Canada must open itself to more migrants. A new immigration category would help—and people who come to Canada as climate migrants should be in addition to our existing immigration numbers. We need to do better.”

Further, recognizing that most climate migrants will remain in the Global South, the report recommends that Canada increase its support to developing countries shouldering the burden of climate displacement.


For more information or interviews with Tim Takaro, contact Lindsey Bertrand at 604-801-5121 x233 or lbertrand[at]policyalternatives[dot]ca.

This report is part of the Climate Justice Project, a partnership between the CCPA and UBC, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, with support from Vancity and Vancouver Foundation.