World Refugee & Migration Council Chair Lloyd Axworthy at Massey is Missing COP 26

New Coalitions Needed to Address Climate Change, Forced Displacement

During a panel discussion on climate change — on the day that the COP 26 climate change conference would have begun — WRMC Chair Lloyd Axworthy said that new networks and coalitions are needed to respond to the confluence of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and a breakdown of governance that will lead to increased displacement of people around the world. “People have the right to participate in the decisions that affect them” including youth, women and people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, he said.

Lloyd Axworthy joined Canadian environmental icon David Suzuki and youth climate activist Sophia Mathur for a conversation moderated by former ambassador of Canada to the United Nations and Council member Rosemary McCarney for a wide-ranging discussion on the history of climate change and human rights activism. They also discussed obstacles, and opportunities, for tackling climate change amidst a pandemic and a crisis of leadership, despite decades of activism.

Watch the Full conversation below

“We’ve had a lot of setbacks, especially with COVID, because there was a big momentum going and suddenly the pandemic hit. We were millions of people on the streets.” She said that technology like virtual meetings and social media allow the movement to continue. “We decided to use our creativity … because we can still have an impact.”

Questions of forced displacement linked to climate change was an important part of the discussions.

“Hundreds of millions of climate refugees are going to be driven out of their countries by the impact of climate change because they will not be able to survive in their homelands. And Canada will be one of the countries that can take them,” said David Suzuki, Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Axworthy said that he had spoken recently with Suzuki about the need for an “increasing collaboration between the activism around climate change and the activism of providing for proper responsibility and rights for displaced persons and refugees.” He said there is a need for a “much broader coalition to to start pushing the political systems towards getting their heads around the combinations and integration of these issues.”

Axworthy said that he had spoken recently with Suzuki about the need for an “increasing collaboration between the activism around climate change and the activism of providing for proper responsibility and rights for displaced persons and refugees.”

“I think that’s one of the great intellectual issues of our time: how can we get people together and translate that into integrated policy. I think we’re stumbling along in some ways. The United Nations, to give you one example, has not yet been able to figure out  how to put together the agencies working on climate and the agencies working on development and epidemics,” he said.

Axworthy also highlighted recent Council discussions with women and girls who have been forcibly displaced and how they are responding to COVID-19.

“It was enlightening in the sense of how active and articulate and committed so many of these women were. But also really soul-destroying to realize how much they have been forgotten,” Axworthy said.

“I will remember this phrase forever: ‘If you’re a displaced person you’re at the end of the queue.’ You don’t have a government representing you. And for all the decisions that are being made about remedies and vaccines and economic resilience and recovery, if you don’t have anybody in that network, and with governments right now increasingly looking inward, the problem that is arising is not only direct impact but it is also interlaced with climate impact. This is going to create large movements both internally and internationally of millions of people who could no longer have the ability to look after their families, to feed them, to have access to water.

Watch the full panel discussion with Rosemary McCarney, Sophia Mathur, David Suzuki and Lloyd Axworthy.