Millions are displaced every year due to climate change.  José Andrés, Leon Panetta and others are working together to try to help

Millions are displaced every year due to climate change. José Andrés, Leon Panetta and others are working together to try to help

Hurricanes they are destroying the Caribbean. The floods have left huge areas of it Pakistan underwater. Drought continues to ravage Africa and parts of the Middle East. And changing weather conditions are driving tens of millions of people from their homes – with more than 200 million people expected to be displaced by climate-related disasters by 2050.

Pakistani flood victims in a makeshift camp
FILE: Displaced people start living in makeshift camps after flooding hit their homes due to heavy monsoons in Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 30, 2022.

Hussain Ali/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

But a diverse group of leaders, thinkers and activists, including chef José Andrés, former cabinet secretaries Leon Panetta and Janet Napolitano and several former presidents and mayors of major cities, will meet for the first time this week on the sidelines of the General Assembly of United States. Assembly in New York to try to force world leaders to start thinking about how migration caused by climate change can be tackled.

The Climate Immigration Council, started by Laurene Powell Jobs and her Emerson Collective, includes Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano — two former national security secretaries who oversaw US immigration policies — plus Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and defense secretary. There’s also Michael Morell, former CIA deputy director and CBS News national security contributor. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. the former presidents and mayors of Costa Rica and Bogota, Colombia; and former leaders of the Organization of American States.

“This is not an issue that governments like to entertain because they want to maintain sovereignty over their borders. It’s a difficult conversation, but it’s an issue that if we’re going to be responsible for how we manage this large-scale flow of people, we have to to overcome it,” said Marshall Fitz, managing director of immigration for the Emerson Collective, who will help run the new climate group.

Immigration policy remains one of the great unsolved policy challenges in the United States — an issue that has been re-entering the national debate in recent days by Republican governors who sent buses and planes with migrants in Washington and Massachusetts. Most of those crossing the US-Mexico border come from across Central and South America, forced to flee by widespread political and economic strife, but many are also fleeing rural areas where farming has become difficult due to drought or extreme weather.

Climate-induced migration “is fuel to the fire of all the forces that have already put migration at historic levels today,” Fitz said. “We’re seeing the most people on the go. Climate is an immovable force that will drive decisions where people are at the doorstep.”

Fitz said the group plans to meet on Tuesday to begin looking at how it can force discussions about climate migration onto the world stage. The short-term goal is to get it on the agenda of the annual United Nations climate change conference, which takes place in November in Cairo, or at least hold less formal gatherings on the sidelines of the confab with leaders present.

Marta Lucia Ramirez, Colombia’s former foreign minister, said she is joining the new council because it is “urgent to work together to find solutions at all levels of society, exercising more effective responsible leadership from governments.”

Roberta Jacobson, the former US ambassador to Mexico who handled Western Hemisphere affairs for the Obama administration, said she would participate because the number of people forced from their homes by climate change “will only increase, creating further strain on an international system already dealing with unprecedented levels of displaced people. We need bold action at local, national, regional and international levels.”

And Andrés said his travels around the world leading the World Central Kitchen organization that provides free meals to refugees and people displaced by natural disasters have shown him “how climate change and catastrophic weather events have devastated communities and have turned lives upside down.”

“Our world needs real solutions to climate change that invest in local communities and build bigger tables, not higher walls,” he said.

“We’re not going to have the kind of pressure campaign to force this onto the international agenda without having some leaders who will really show the breadth and depth of interest in solutions here,” Fitz said.

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