Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. —The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus
These words, engraved on the Statue of Liberty overlooking that great city of immigrants, New York, remind us of the power of cities to provide refuge and a new beginning for those forced to flee their homes. With leaders of the world’s most powerful countries gathering in Quebec for the G7 Charlevoix Summit, now is the moment for them to work with the mayors of their great cities to address the plight of forced climate migrants around the world.
As the mayor of Paris, my primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and prosperity of my citizens. This is a preoccupation I share with all mayors around the world, especially those gathering within the C40 network. C40 Cities now gathers 96 of the world’s greatest cities: together with my colleagues, we represent 700 million citizens, and our cities generate a quarter of the global economy.
How could we deliver a better quality of life for people without addressing the greatest challenges facing the global community, including inequality, migration and climate change? Throughout history, Paris has been a refugee city for migrants from every part of the world. As for great cities around the world, our strength comes from our diversity and the solidarity that binds our citizens, whether they have just arrived or lived here all their lives.
In Paris, we have initiated an unparalleled mobilisation to provide help to tens of thousands of refugees and support their long-term integration into France. And we will remain true to this human duty. Thanks to the exceptional solidarity of Parisians, we have recently helped tens of thousands of people. I recognise the commitment of many other mayors around the world to offer similar support and solidarity, from Athens, Milan and Barcelona, to Vancouver, Los Angeles and Chicago, to Amman, Dhaka and Lagos.
Cities are doing their best to honour the moral and material obligations to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. But we need more and more support from all the national authorities to get the job done.
An increasing global need
Our commitments may also be more and more insufficient if levels of migration rapidly increase as a result of climate change. Natural disasters, many of them climate related, already displace more people than wars around the world. Studies suggest that by 2050, as many as 200 million people may be forced to migrate due to climate change. Studies also prove that women are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, and many of those most vulnerable to the risks of displacement will again be women and children.
The G7 leaders should provide formal recognition for individuals forced into migration by climate change. No legal status for people who forcibly migrate because of climate-related events currently exists in international, regional or national law. This undermines the ability of governments, both local and national, to manage, protect and support those who arrive on our shores in search of a better life. Such status would provide them with the same legal protections that other migrants receive.
The best option to manage future mass movements of people is to take bold climate action and avoid the risks forcing them from their homes. Current pledges by nation-states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would still see global temperatures increase well beyond limits considered safe by climate scientists and the limits set in the Paris Agreement. Scientists are clear that such warming would cause devastating impacts around the world, including rapid sea-level rise and more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires and hurricanes. Coastal cities would be particularly vulnerable and many millions of people could be
forced to migrate.
That is why mayors of the world’s great cities are so committed to bold and urgent climate action. Through the C40 Cities network, 96 cities are committing to deliver on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. At the same time, we are preparing our cities for the challenges that the future may bring, ensuring a secure, prosperous and healthy future for our citizens. We need the G7 leaders to commit at the Charlevoix Summit to similarly bold goals to reduce emissions and take climate action, consistent with the ambition of the Paris Agreement.
Climate migration is already happening. It is already reshaping the great cities of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The energy, ambition and commitment to a better future that migrants bring helps make our cities stronger. Now is the moment to formally and legally recognise climate migration and develop new provisions for addressing climate-induced displacement, filling the unacceptable gaps in legal protection.
Throughout history, people have been forced from their homes by conflict, poverty and persecution. The ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’. By acting now, G7 leaders meeting in Quebec can determine if millions more will suffer a similar fate because of climate change in the decades ahead. The responsibility is great. We must succeed.