Climate refugees: Canada’s Big Shift

By Patrick Robinson

BBC News, Toronto

Some people live in fear – in constant fear – of environmental change. They wonder whether the areas where they have lived their entire lives will be theirs forever. But Canada is not an island from the horrific experience of climate change, either. There is evidence that in the region now known as the Hudson Bay region, most of Canada’s dairy herds have gone, and significant disruption to nature has occurred. ‘Poverty worse than ever’ In the broader region of central Canada, the strength of its economy has, in many ways, been made possible by its wealth of land. It was, in fact, a growing forestry industry, with decent pay for people who also tended the forests. Now, all that is under threat. From the lowlands in the Atlantic, seasonal mountain work has moved inland, paying less and not offering the security of forestry. In the north-east, some people who grew up on the sea have moved inland to be close to their jobs, others have migrated more than 1,000 miles to the south. In the absence of a truly comprehensive plan, I fear that communities that have been quite resistant to displacement in the past will lose their desire for stability. Women are going to be affected the most

Niloufer Mirza, IOM A look at the housing in one small community in Ontario shows why. The houses and dormitories are set up so that people have the bare minimum of space in which to live. Those who are able to afford more modest housing feel they have paid their dues and have become a permanent part of the town. “You can see people coming in and out in a day and having to find a place, so we find that families really struggle with homelessness,” says Niloufer Mirza, an official of the International Organization for Migration. “People are living in tents, sometimes in alleys. People are putting out their belongings in the woods because they cannot afford to keep them in storage for the winter.” Threat to food supply An increase in climate refugees has been noted by Canada’s environmental science group, the Ecofiscal Commission. It says the land where the community of Trois Rivieres sits has lost 1,600 hectares of forest and some 60,000 hectares of wetlands, in the last four decades. Canada has witnessed an increase in climate refugees This is one of the factors that have led to its higher per capita rate of climate change refugees, it says. Ms Mirza is helping another community in Canada, called Brighton, with climate refugees. Brighton is another relatively prosperous town, where some of the people who have moved to the area are farmers. It is situated on a ridge of the St Lawrence River, a type of upland forest, but there has been a decline in that type of forest, so people who have been able to farm there are not able to do so any more. “We see a lot of anger about the loss of jobs, about what they believe is climate change forcing them out of the community,” Ms Mirza says. “This is a place where there was a very strong sense of ownership of the land, that you could do it better than the farmers, and now people have had to move out of their homes. People have lost their sense of pride in the community and the land. Women are going to be affected the most, they are at risk of going hungry.” Financial burdens Canada’s response to this displacement and loss of identity has been relatively slow. It is not yet clear what federal government strategy would work, but there has been the creation of a department dedicated to understanding and dealing with the issue. Ms Mirza is involved in a similar project with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, part of the UN’s global research network for climate change. Work in the Long Island area of the United States shows that social, economic and political factors such as the lack of governmental support to people who are forced from their homes in this way have an important part to play in the tension and anger people feel. People are moving out of their homes in part because they have lost their jobs, because they cannot access the housing and amenities that they had. However, the means of transportation and schools are sometimes different than in the same area. It is also clear that there is another factor that is to

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