UK should 'give visas to people fleeing climate change disaster'

Think tank suggests a British visa that would let people earn money to help rebuild their lives

Women displaced by flooding in Bentiu, South Sudan, receive monthly food rations from the World Food Programme on February 6. AFP
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A think tank has suggested the UK should provide visas for people fleeing natural disasters caused by climate change.

The government should provide safe, legal routes for climate refugees to reach the UK to reduce the effects of related migration on border security, the centre-right think tank Onward said.

Climate change is expected to displace hundreds of millions of people over the next 30 years, with some likely to seek refuge in the UK, including by illegal routes.

In its report Forced to Move, Onward proposed a natural disaster visa scheme to let people either earn money to help rebuild their lives before returning home, or settle permanently if they have no home to return to.

The think tank also proposed a scheme for people in vulnerable countries to be trained in sustainability skills and then stay to help their country adapt to climate change, or move to the UK for a limited time to work on the transition to net-zero emissions.

“A robust immigration system and an enforced border to lower the level of illegal migration into the country is key to maintaining public confidence," the report’s authors said.

“However, new controllable visa schemes for those displaced by climate change to come to the UK would enable the government to help those most in need while protecting the integrity of the immigration system.

“Obviously, the UK does not have the capacity to help all who might be forcibly displaced by climate change over the course of the coming century.

“But, as mentioned throughout this report, the UK has demonstrated time and again that it is willing to play its part to help those most in need.”

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The report called for more investment in climate adaptation in developing countries, working with private investors to limit the number of people forced to leave their homes by extreme weather events.

This could include encouraging private investment by pooling resources with other governments to take the “first loss” on investment in adaptation measures.

Funding for adaptation measures is likely to be a focus of this year’s Cop28 meeting in Dubai after progress on the UN’s Global Goal on Adaptation at Cop27 in Egypt.

There, the UK announced £200 million ($246 million) in adaptation funding for African nations and promised to treble its total support for climate change adaptation to £1.5 billion by 2025.

Onward found 46 per cent of the public backed greater funding for climate adaptation, compared with 28 per cent who opposed it, but only 29 per cent thought the UK had an obligation to host climate refugees.

“We cannot allow climate-related migration to become the defining crisis of the 21st century," said one of the reports co-authors, Ted Christie-Miller.

“The government needs to act now to build climate resilience in the most vulnerable regions on the planet, and open up safe and legal visa routes for those fleeing environmental disasters.”

Updated: March 23, 2023, 10:30 PM