Bill Clinton: World Must Prepare for Climate Refugees


Photo: Paul_Morse, Clinton Global Initiative via Flickr

Some of the most dramatic impacts of climate change will be felt by the millions of people who will be forced to leave their homes: Climate refugees will flee island nations rendered inhospitable by rising sea levels, arid regions increasingly wracked by drought, and wet, low-lying areas that grow ever more prone to flooding.

The international system that currently works to find refugees new homes will likely be overloaded as this occurs -- we won't be able to deal with so many mass exoduses at once. That's why Bill Clinton thinks we need to overhaul the current system to deal with climate refugees. At a roundtable meeting with Clinton and a handful of other writers as part of the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative, I asked the 42nd President what he thought of current refugee policy in the face of our changing climate.

"I think that you have to assume that because of climate change, there are going be a lot more refugees," Clinton said.

"And that the laws which exist, and the systems of support that exist, not just the US but elsewhere, were basically built for a different time when you might have a surge of refugees from this country or a surge from that country, because of a particular political upheaval or a particular natural disaster. And that's almost certainly going to not work now."

Clinton proposes a drastic reform of the current system, led by the nations who resettle the most refugees, and have the resources to help even more.

"So I believe that the countries who take the most refugees and have the greatest capacity to do it, should try to reach some agreement on broad-based principals that ought to be enacted to change the laws," Clinton said.

Refugee policy certainly isn't topping any agendas at a time when most of the globe is more concerned with economic woes and warfare -- but the world must begin to grow accustomed to the fact that migration only stands to accelerate mightily in coming years.

"I think that in general we should become more open to immigration again," Clinton said. "Keeping people in limbo is a waste of human potential."

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