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Fire and Floods in Our Own Backyard: Examining Climate Change Displacement and Internal Migration in Canada

Fire and Floods in Our Own Backyard: Examining Climate Change Displacement and Internal Migration in Canada

Professor Yvonne Su features a special climate change research month session

March 16, 2023, Toronto- Climate change, its effects, and cross-border migration are topics that are usually on the news, however, today, Professor Yvonne Su talked about the under-discussed topic of internal migration because of climate change in the latest Emerging & Systemic Risks Monthly Lectures, York University’s Climate Change Research Month special session.

In opening, Su shared pictures and videos of the recent wildfires and said that climate change fuels wildfires but the wildfires also fuel climate change, but the question is “How do we turn that lens and examine what climate migration and disaster-induced displacement look like in Canada?”

“In 2021 wildfires caused an estimated total of 1,760 megatons of carbon emissions which is equivalent to 640 fifty megatons of CO2. Wildfires in 2021 generated 148% more than the total fossil fuel emissions in 2020.”

Based on the CSIS report on climate change, they highlighted the serious threats that climate change poses to Canada. The report outlined concerns about threats to water and food security, Arctic sovereignty, coastal security, and mass migration. Sea level rise is predicted to cause irreversible damage to infrastructure and vulnerable coastal communities.

“Vancouver city planners have estimated that sea levels could rise up to two meters over the next 80 years. Increasing sea levels also bring a higher risk of animal-borne diseases, loss of arable land, and shrinking freshwater resources and then increase of uninhabitable land in Canada”.

Despite these facts plus the impact on people’s ability to make a living, many still seem to be really focused on people from the outside coming into Canada and immigrating to Canada due to climate change but they're not so focused on the internal migration and the internal tensions and frictions. 

Further, Su shared examples of internal migration including indigenous communities that were disproportionately impacted by the human-made flood which led to the permanent displacement of Lake St. Martin First Nation’s community; and the Lytton BC wildfires that burned down the village and the inability to restore it.

Su said that science cannot just reiterate these facts over and over and produce little results, action really needs to be taken. Su suggested the following proactive solutions:

1.     Community-based planned resolution

2.     Develop multi-year and multi-hazard prevention plans that move beyond party politics

3.     Developing multi-level governance and resources

4.     Support and prepare host communities.

“Be proactive to the solutions that are available so that when there is internal migration and a large amount of it due to a disaster we can be prepared to host communities, those who are obviously impacted can be as best prepared as possible”, Su explained.

Moreover, from the questions that arise from the audience, Su shared some of her experiences witnessing examples of internal migration including in the Philippines where relocation usually occurs internally. 

“In the Philippines, they do things differently they consult, had conversations with the community and they asked the community to identify to them who were the most vulnerable and that was fascinating because the people that they said were usually people that are out of sight that the NGOs themselves would not see, they focused on ways to build back that doesn't necessarily have to involve lifting people from their homes and moving them far away,” said Su.

To close, the lecture’s moderator Professor Idil Boran put together more questions from the audience and asked “how do we see the relationship between different types of migration, may it be environmental disasters or disasters that are due to human activities?”

Prof. Su answered this and left the audience something to think about as she ended her lecture, "If a disaster were to strike Toronto and we have to be temporarily relocated where would we go? That's a good place to start, to think and look at other people in Canada and have empathy for the experiences that they might be going through being dislocated, displaced.”