Rich Nations Are Investing in Militarising Borders to Keep Out Climate Refugees

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Climate Refugees

As the COP26 draws to a close, many climate-conscious citizens of the globe have criticised governments for turning what was seen as “the last chance saloon” to deal with the climate crisis into an international greenwashing event, where nations were merely seen to be acting on climate.

And a new report by the Transnational Institute (TNI) outlines that while many of the wealthiest top greenhouse gas emitting nations have long been dragging their feet on taking climate action – often relying on denial as an excuse – their governments have been hastily building a “global climate wall”.

At the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, or COP15, the globe’s richest countries committed to an annual $100 billion in climate financing for the poorest nations that are bearing the brunt of climate impacts, so as to support them in mitigating emissions and adapting to changes.

The Global Climate Wall report, however, finds that rather than funding poor nations in dealing with increasingly extreme weather, the wealthiest nations that are responsible for the bulk of climate change are investing twice as much in militarising their borders to keep out the climate displaced.

This global trend suggests that climate has long ceased to be debated by governments, and rather than invest in mitigation strategies, they’ve chosen to further fund the fossil fuel industry, as well as create stronger borders.

And as the report makes clear, many major fossil fuel corporations are linked to the companies providing border security.

The largest emitting rich list

The Global Climate Wall report conveys that climate migration and displacement are now realities that are fuelled not only by catastrophes but also gradual changes in weather conditions. And while most of those affected become internally displaced persons, some flee as refugees across borders.

The report focuses on the seven wealthiest top emitters, which are the US, Germany, Japan, the UK, Canada, France and Australia.

Collectively, these nations are responsible for 48 percent of emissions since 1850, and they’re currently spending 2.3 times more on border security than climate finance.

Over the five years to 2018, border spending by these seven nations rose by 29 percent. And the general trend in militarising their borders since the early 2000s has been “partly rooted in national climate security strategies”.

However, these nations have failed to meet their meagre climate financing goals. The OECD reported that in 2019 only $79.6 billion of the slated $100 billion was handed over to nations of the Global South.

And according to Oxfam, once overreporting and loans are taken into account the actual funding provided over that year was closer to $33.4 billion.

The G77 has cited an annual $782 billion in climate funding as being closer to a just amount, while Bolivia has suggested $3 trillion a year.

A climate pariah

Over 2013 to 2018, TNI found Canada was the worst offender having spent on average 15 times more on border security than climate financing, while Australia took second place at 13 times more, which saw an annual $2.7 billion spent on borders with only $200 million for climate finance.

The report finds that our nation is responsible for 1.8 percent of historic emissions. The Morrison government often claims that Australia is not a top global emitter, yet it ranks as third highest emitter on a per capita basis. And the UN has listed us as last in terms of taking climate action.

Australia’s annual spending on its borders goes towards “enforcement, compliance, detention, and status resolution, border management, offshore and onshore detention, and includes widespread use of surveillance systems and biometrics”.

The Global Detention Project is quoted in the TNI report as having stated that Australia has “the most restrictive immigration control regime in the world”, which takes into consideration it’s policies on mandatory detention and offshore detention.

Border externalisation involves policies that effectively transfer a nation’s borders to foreign countries. And TNI outlines that Australia’s external borders include its “notorious” offshore detention centres, as well as funding border security programs in Asian and Pacific nations.

Those that contribute least

In contrast, report researchers Todd Miller, Nick Buxton and Mark Akkerman outline that the world’s poorest 50 percent are responsible for 7 percent of global emissions yet they’re facing 75 to 80 percent of the costs.

“Somalia, for example, is responsible for 0.00027 percent of total emissions since 1850 but had more than one million people – 6 percent of the population – displaced by a climate-related disaster in 2020,” reads the report.

The researchers explain that most of those affected by climate-induced displacement remain in their countries of origin. And the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre states that there were 55 million people living in internal displacement at the end of last year.

The Global Climate Wall report further found that climate-related internal displacement was particularly pronounced in 2020 due to tropical storms, monsoons and floods in East and South Asia and the Pacific, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it was caused by an intense rain season.

A fossil fuel-border security overlap

The report authors state that the increasing militarisation of borders over recent decades has been due to a number of reasons, which include the war on terror and the drug war, while changing climate has been increasing as a contributing factor since the mid-1990s.

This has led to the establishment of a border-security-industrial complex, with governments and the security industry feeding off each other. And as these markets have grown, there has been an understanding that climate devastation can be beneficial in terms of increasing profits.

TNI cites British transnational border security company G4S as having told the Carbon Disclosure Project in 2014 that the UN had found there could be 50 million climate refugees soon created globally, and this could mean increased financial opportunities.

However, the report also finds that the border security industry interlocks with top fossil fuel companies.

Indeed, the top ten largest fossil fuel firms all contract services from the same companies that are dominating border security, including with the provision of technology.

“This nexus of power, wealth and collusion between fossil fuel firms and the border security industry shows how climate inaction and militarised responses to its consequences increasingly work hand in hand,” the authors note.

A political choice

So, rather than assisting nations of the Global South to transition to renewable energy economies, as well as in dealing with the climate displacement already upon them, rich nations, like Australia, are simply building larger walls and arming border forces to prevent the foreseen migration fallout.

“These same countries are enhancing and scaling up border militarisation and immigration enforcement. This has expanded dramatically in a very short period of time,” the researchers explain, adding that much of this now has a focus on externalising borders.

The report concludes that this “government spending is a political choice”, which means there are alternatives. And choosing to invest in climate mitigation could lead to clean energy economies in both the Global North and South.

Whereas continuing down the existing path will soon result in no choice at all as temperatures rise to a point of no return. And at that time, the size of border walls won’t matter as the ravages of global warming won’t be kept out no matter how many militarised border patrols are in place.

Main image is taken from the cover of the Transnational Institute’s Global Climate Wall report

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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