How to Make Climate Refugee Protections a Reality
By Steve Trent
Imagine if you couldn't feed your children and had to leave your home because of fossil fuels burned in a far-off country. That's what people on the front lines of climate change face today.
The climate crisis is now creating more refugees than war. In recent years tens of millions of people around the world have been driven from their homes by drought, storms, flooding and fires. Over the next 50 years, climate change could cause a refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.
Where will people go when their countries become inhospitable? Will the governments of the world accept them?
In January the United Nations recognized the severity of these questions and formally stated that it may be unlawful for governments to return people to countries where their lives would be put at risk by the climate crisis.
The United Nations should be applauded for standing up for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. And while this opens the door to establishing protections to ensure climate refugees receive the same legal protections as those fleeing war or persecution, it doesn't yet guarantee that: We need a comprehensive international plan.
Climate, Conflict and the Universal Right to Life
Time is already running short for some.
Pacific island states, in particular, find themselves at imminent risk from climate change, as even moderate sea-level rise may swamp many beneath the waves.
It's this threat that drove Ioane Teitiota, a resident of the Republic of Kiribati, to apply for asylum in New Zealand in 2015 — the first time a person identified himself as a climate refugee. Teitiota cited overcrowding, failing crops, contaminated water supplies, social tensions and violence as among the reasons he needed to leave his island home, which at its highest point isn't even 10 feet above sea level.
Teitiota is far from alone. Around the world the climate crisis is making violence more likely by causing shortages of food, water and safe environments. This has had a role in multiple conflicts already, including the devastating Syrian civil war.
Despite the risk to his island nation, Teitiota's application was rejected because the Supreme Court of New Zealand ruled his life was not in immediate danger. The 10-15 years before Kiribati will be underwater, the court found, would be enough time for other arrangements to come to light.
But Teitiota brought his case to the U.N. Human Rights Committee — the body of experts responsible for upholding international civil rights — which led to January's decision. While the committee accepted New Zealand's original judgment, there was one hopeful outcome: It stated that in the future countries may be acting unlawfully if they return someone to their country of origin when that person's right to life is threatened by the climate crisis.
Essentially, this sets the stage to provide climate refugees a similar legal status to people fleeing war or persecution.
This is significant, but it raises even more questions.
We don't know how immediate the danger should have to be for someone to be able to claim asylum because of the climate crisis, or how an individual might be required to prove their level of vulnerability.
We do know that individuals can still be returned to their home country if there's any safe location in that country at all.
The aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which displaced hundreds of thousands in Mozambique in 2019. Denis Onyodi / IFRC / DRK / Climate Centre / CC BY-NC 2.0
This is important because few countries — for example, relatively small island nations — will be so affected by the climate crisis in the short term that no safe place exists for people to be sent back to within them. Forcing refugees from larger nations to stay in, or return to, their home countries will create that same overcrowding, tensions and competition for resources that Teitiota feared — situations we've already seen in Syria and other places. And the communities they're resettled into may not remain safe much longer.
Three Key Next Steps
These outstanding questions — what makes someone a climate refugee, the immediacy of danger required, and how to assess the safety of whole countries — must form the fundamental building blocks of an international agreement on tackling the climate crisis and the changes in migration patterns it will bring.
This new international agreement, separate from the Geneva Convention, should provide a legal definition of climate refugees, and how they should be protected, as the first step to a global agreement. If countries can agree on what being a climate refugee means, then people forced to leave their homes because of rising seas, unbearable heat, or related threats will get the protection they deserve.
Beyond these direct effects, climate breakdown often acts to magnify and multiply conflicts and resource shortages. An international agreement on climate refugees must recognize the complex and multifaceted nature of climate change and its related societal threats.
On the topic of the safety and integrity of entire countries, a new international agreement must also resist the temptation to buy a small amount of time by sending people to areas that are only temporarily safer than the ones they left. It must seek long-term solutions that can secure notions of sovereignty and cultural identity alongside the economic, social and environmental needs of forced migrants.
The United Nations has laid down the first stage of the theory. Now all nations must come together to make climate justice a reality.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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