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The Climate & Our Community Conference

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Last month on Human Rights Day, communities of Bristol came together to shape the first conversation of its kind in the city on climate change and migration. Clara Fung, Sustainability and Research Officer at Bristol Green Capital Partnership, shares highlights from the conference:

The morning began with Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, noting Bristol’s long-standing commitment to tackling issues of climate change and social inequalities. He cited the conference as one of many city-wide steps towards better inclusion and involvement of everyone in tackling the climate and ecological emergencies –  especially of those affected by environmental and social inequalities – summarising with, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

Climate Change Predictions and Impacts

In order to create a shared understanding for representatives from communities across Bristol, Dr Jo House from the University of Bristol summarised the main drivers of climate change. What this means for Bristol if we continue with business as usual is a +5°C temperature change, 30% less summer rainfall and 30% more in the winter by the end of the century.

Rising temperatures and sea levels will bring more frequent and intense extreme natural events, exemplified last year with the 2019 flooding in Iran, drought in Afghanistan, the ongoing Australia wildfires and storms like Cyclone Idai that struck Beira in Mozambique last March.

Social Consequences of Climate Change in Beira

Some of the social impacts of these changes were brought home by Dominik Byrne, the Programme Lead Consultant for the Bristol Link with Beira charity:

  • Reduced access to clean air and drinking water, secure shelter and food supplies due to damaged infrastructure and disrupted delivery of basic provisions
  • Increased cases of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress
  • Population displacement – 7 million people were uprooted by extreme weather in the first half of 2019, the highest figure ever recorded by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

Bristol has been twinned with Beira for 30 years, with the purpose of bringing mutual benefits to the citizens of both cities. In light of its recent struggles, Bristol Link with Beira’s focus has shifted to help coordinate the rebuilding of the city.

Climate Change – a Social Inequality and Threat Multiplier

Disadvantaged groups such as low-income, BAME communities and the elderly are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. For example, the poorer communities of Beira tend to live in poorly constructed homes in areas prone to flooding and storms. They are disproportionately displaced and left more vulnerable and exposed to economic and political risks. In this sense, climate change is described as a ‘threat multiplier’ because of its potential to exacerbate current social inequalities.

Climate Change and Migration

April Humble, Researcher on Climate Change, Migration and Global Border Security, gave a historical perspective:

  • Human mobility has long been part of our history and will continue to be a part of the human experience.
  • Migration is in constant flux due to changing factors such as the rise and fall of empires, trade routes, conflict, food scarcity, climatic shift and persecution.
  • Migration and climate have always been connected but the impacts of man-made climate change will intensify and extensively change migratory patterns – but with no international legal framework to protect climate migrants, the scope and scale of change will challenge national and global governance.

She emphasised that we must think of who the main contributors are to climate change, who should take responsibility and that this issue cannot be discussed without considering climate justice.

Lived Migrant Experiences

Ahmed Aden and Xhemile Kaza gave accounts of changing extreme natural events in their countries.  Ahmed also shared some positive experiences of migrating to the UK – such as the warm welcome he received, the opportunity to continue his education and complete a work placement in the Mayor’s Office, and  some challenges such as the lengthy asylum process and very limited financial support (£5 per day), increasing the risk of developing a mental health problem such as anxiety and depression.

Learning from the experiences of people like Ahmed and Xhemile and understanding the climate-migration nexus is a fundamental step in addressing the issues of climate-induced displacement.

Conference Participation

Attendees were led through an interactive play exploring the myth of the Bristol Avon. Inspired by indigenous stories and intuitive knowledge of nature, the play highlighted the role of storytelling in reconnecting us with our local environment and our community.

Reflections

The conference sparked new connections and drew a more complete picture of the true extent of climate change. Discussions covered; what people valued about their communities, how people felt about the reality of climate change, and what messages people would like to share with their communities and the city.

It had one of the most diverse audiences seen at any climate-related event in Bristol. As a result of the greater diversity in attendees, new voices were heard and those often without a role in city-wide discussions and decisions had the opportunity to feed into the One City Climate Strategy

The event was just the start of a conversation, with plenty of appetite in the room and in Bristol for further work on climate migration and climate justice. This will continue this year, starting with a workshop on challenging injustices around these issues at the Bristol Refugee Week Conference on Thursday 13th February.

This event was organised and co-hosted by the Mayor of Bristol, Bristol City Council, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Refugee Rights and Bristol City of Sanctuary.

For further Information:

Watch a video summary of the conference click here

Visit Bristol Link with Beira

Visit Bristol City of Sanctuary

Read Mayor Marvin’s blog about the conference

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