“Petro persecution”: Report ties massive refugee displacement to fossil fuel investment

A new study finds that the climate crisis
is already leading to a massive increase in the number of refugees being displaced around
the world. In Berkeley, California, we are joined by
Hossein Ayazi, policy analyst with the Global Justice Program at the Othering & Belonging
Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. He’s the co-author of the new report, “Climate
Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied.” How does what’s happening inside the U.N.
climate summit affect what’s happening outside, this discussion we’re having with you about
climate refugees? And if you can talk more about, for example,
what you mean by “petro-persecution”? Sure. So, I’ll start with your second question,
in that petro-persecution is the main notion that we’re advancing within the report. And it’s a term — basically, we’ve identified
a major barrier in negotiations toward refugee protections for climate refugees. In order to obtain refugee status, one need
cross international borders due to a real risk of persecution on the basis of one’s
race, ethnicity, religion, other circumstances. But this notion of persecution within refugee
law assumes that the source of persecution, the actor, the persecutor, is either one’s
country of origin, the government, or internal to one’s country of origin. And this is not how forced migration under
the climate crisis works. In fact, when we think of forced migration
under the climate crisis, it’s fundamentally impossible to tie a specific climate-related
natural disaster to a specific actor of persecution, whether it’s corporation — fossil fuel
corporations or fossil fuel-dependent industrial processes. Additionally, many of the countries that are
at greatest risk of the effects of the climate crisis are in fact working hard to protect
their own populations, to keep them in place, to ensure that they have the livelihoods to
remain in place. And so, what we’re trying to do with this
notion of petro-persecution is, one, delink the notion of persecution from territory. By that, I mean the climate crisis is a global
phenomenon, and so we need to recognize it as such within international refugee law. And the second thing that we want to advance
within this notion of petro-persecution is that the actor of persecution is actually
our global dependence upon fossil fuels and the global investment patterns behind this
dependence. And, Hossein, your report doesn’t just look
at climate refugees in the sense of people who are forced to flee across borders, but
also at people who have been forced to flee their homes within countries, internally displaced
people. Could you talk about that? What did you find? How many people are affected, and where? Yes, so, by and large, most migration due to the
climate crisis and most migration — most forced migration, in general, is internal. And this is something that we state clearly
in the report. And that is actually — people displaced
internally do have the legally recognized ability to gain — ability to resettle within
their country of origin and stay put. And the issue that we found in the report
is that while internally displaced peoples do have the means for recourse and redress
in some way or another, that this is not at all the case for peoples forced to cross international
borders. So, when we discuss refugees, whether climate
refugees or not, we’re really talking about movement across international borders and
how — as a certain island nations, for example, are at risk of complete inundation, or desertification
makes entire countries potentially uninhabitable, that people are forced to flee their country
and that there’s no place for them to resettle at home. And this is the major gap in international
refugee law that we are shining the light on. And food refugees? Yeah, so, this notion of food refugees is one that
we are using to define people or communities displaced due to growing food insecurity. And this can be due to a number of dynamics. This could be due to land grabs or natural
resource grabs, seed monopolies, international free trade agreements — basically, what
people might describe as the corporate food regime or corporate food system. And this structural vulnerability that communities
face as a result of this larger system actually intersects with the climate crisis, in the
sense that natural disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis force people to already
— force already vulnerable peoples to search elsewhere for sustainable livelihoods. And so, while we recognize that the term “climate
refugee” is different from “food refugee,” the two are really interrelated and need be
recognized as both distinct categories yet fundamentally inseparable.

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