Climate change? It's everyone's problem

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More extreme weather this year has shown that richer countries are not escaping the impacts of a changing climate – they need to start taking action, writes Nanjala Nyabola.


A satellite image of Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado River in the US. 19 July 2022 - a drought with lowest water levels ever. Public domain image by NASA.

Western Europe had a terrible heatwave in late June 2022. Temperatures were over 40 degrees centigrade in a lot of France, Spain and Portugal. In Spain, wildfires caused by the extreme heat burnt more than 4,000 hectares of forest. In the US, Yellowstone National Park was closed after so much rain caused too much flooding. At the Stockholm+50 conference (50 years since the United Nations Environmental Programme started), no one seemed worried – with rich countries as usual saying they would finally do something to help.

When governments discuss this, it seems that climate change will only affect countries of the Global South, with the problem of many climate refugees coming into Europe and North America from mostly non-white countries. For example, in 2021, the US government published a report on the impact of the climate crisis on migration. It focused on how there could be political instability from conflict in countries in the Global South, which would cause more migration. The report was clear: climate change is a threat to the US because it might cause a lot more immigration. There was one line saying that poor communities in the US that might suffer from climate change. But there is no mention of all the wildfires and flooding – this affects everyone, rich or poor. Also, the US’s climate policy is not developing: in June, the Supreme Court decided to cut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to control carbon emissions from power plants.

This is blind thinking. People want to warn that poor people will be affected more, so it seems that rich countries will have no effects. People think that rich people in rich countries will be able to pay to escape the worst effects; and that the migration will only be people from the South looking for safety in the North. This call for action is based on pity. It should be based on universal solidarity against a challenge that the rich countries caused.

Sure – people who live in some areas - semi-arid and arid areas, conflict zones etc – will be affected more as the climate changes. But the summer heatwaves and flooding across the Global North show that it is naive and dangerous to assume that rich countries will escape. Current policies on climate migration don’t seem to accept that anyone can become a refugee at any point, no matter their race or nationality. When climate change affects everyone, it will be a universal problem.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)