Mass migration due to climate change will dwarf small boats crisis, warns climate tsar

The current debate around small boat crossings and immigration is "child's play" compared to the potential impact of the mass migration of people that could come about as climate change renders parts of the world uninhabitable, the UK's top climate adviser has warned.

Migrants try to cross the Channel on inflatable boats (Photo by Volke/DeFodi Images)

Immigration has become a key issue for prime minister Rishi Sunak and Conservative MPs. Earlier this year, Sunak made stopping the boats one of his five promises to the British people. The government says that its controversial Illegal Migration Bill will fulfil that promise by ending illegal entry as a route to asylum in the UK.

READ MORE: INTERVIEW: Lord Deben on climate immigration to come and how the Environment Agency lost power

However, in an interview with ENDS, Lord Deben, the outgoing chair of the Climate Change Committee, warned that the implications of huge numbers of people being displaced by the effects of global warming are being overlooked. There could be as many as one billion environmental migrants over the next 30 years, according to estimates cited by the UN International Organization for Migration.

“Here we have an immigration discussion, but what nobody’s actually talking about is that this is child’s play compared to what will happen when people can’t live in a country,” Lord Deben, who was known as John Gummer when he was a Conservative MP between 1979 and 2010, told ENDS.

If the climate changes in such a way that certain areas become inhabitable, the people living in those locations will move, he added. “And it doesn’t matter what you say about it, because in the end, if the choice is between living and dying, you move.”

In the interview, Lord Deben also told ENDS that:

  • The government should set up a retrofit scheme funded by the housebuilders to pay for upgrades to make Britain’s housing stock more energy efficient. “The housebuilding industry has totally taken the profit and handed the costs to the people who bought the houses,” he said

  • The planning system needs to change to take greater account of the net zero goal. “We need to have changes in our planning laws, which are based upon the principle that we don’t make decisions except in the context of net zero,” he said

  • The Environment Agency’s independence has been eroded. “Successive ministers have just reduced its power, and brought it into the department,” he said. “They’ve even taken over its publicity machine.”

The Climate Change Committee announced today that professor Piers Forster has been appointed as its interim chair by the UK Government and Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Forster has served on the committee since December 2018. He is founding director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate and has acted as lead author for several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

The committee said that Forster will take up the role until a permanent chair is appointed.

Read the full interview here.