The Who, What, and Why of Climate Refugees

By Rebeca Camacho, Tenzin Chomphel, and Jasmine Moheb

While the science of climate change remains a heated debate at the forefront of international policy agenda, the reality of people being displaced from their homes due to environmental conditions is a hardened fact. The World Bank has concluded that by 2050, 143 million people will be displaced directly due to climate change. Countries that are especially susceptible to environmental disasters are those coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as they will lack the technology and preparation necessary to overcome challenges that are brought forth by environmental changes, such as rising sea levels and water scarcity.

In face of the increasing evidence that climate change has led to the displacement of populations, it is surprising that even basic definitions for the concept of a “climate refugee” are still contested to this day. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that although the term “climate refugee” is one that can be used in the media and has great support in evidence of migrating individuals, it is not legally recognized in international law. This is due to its contrasting definition to the standard interpretation of refugee as someone who has been displaced specifically due to persecution based on identity or discrimination. The lack of legal definition in international law for “climate refugees” leads to some confusion regarding the legal framework of how they can be dealt with by countries with pre-existing refugee sanctuary policies. 

Despite this, in light of increasing climate refugees, the UNHCR established an Advisory Group on Climate Change and Human Mobility, allowing for the organization to take part in helping victims of environmental disasters although it does not necessarily directly fall under its jurisdiction. Additional steps are being taken at the international level as the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference also led to the creation of a task force that would map human migrations and produce policies that address gaps in international law regarding climate displacement. Furthermore, countries around the world are taking the responsibility upon themselves to provide shelter for climate refugees. The Nansen Initiative is a program adopted by Switzerland and Norway in 2012 that attempts to govern cross-border migration due to displacement resulting from environmental disasters.

In conjunction with the rise of these displaced populations, we have seen a pullback from the United States on any action towards addressing climate change or its effects. The largely symbolic yet hugely consequential pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, exemplified this distaste for any international collaboration. Having the largest country in terms of GDP, and the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases out of the agreements presents a critical obstacle from both creating and encouraging a multilateral response to climate change. Not only does this convey the message that the United States does not prioritize global climate refugees, but it also ignores those experiencing the exact same conditions domestically.  The disastrous effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico for example, have displaced thousands of U.S. citizens, leaving them homeless and at the mercy of diminishing federal aid. With substantial evidence to indicate that Maria’s storm was greatly strengthened by the effects of warming water temperatures, the impacts of this global environmental change and political inaction in response, are unsurprisingly inescapable.

With all of these factors considered, Prospect Journal of International Affairs aims to shed some much needed light on the rise of Climate Refugees, and the various perspectives from which this rise can be viewed in our Fall 2019 Global Forum on Climate Refugees. From the perspective of international law, Professor David Victor will discuss the possibility of climate change becoming a matter of National security. Postdoctoral researcher Marena Lin will discuss adaptation through labor and immigration rights, specifically in the context of Pacific Islanders. Lastly, Professor Milton Saier will discuss the impacts of the human population both overall and on an individual consumer basis, towards the refugee crisis. 

Dissemination and discussion is a critical first step towards addressing any widespread issue. Prospect, No Lost Generation and I-House hope that through this Global Forum, we are able to play a small role in expanding and engaging the minds of the UC San Diego community towards a collective action. 
Featured image by Marco Verch

CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY: THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

by Madi Ro
Staff Writer

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on the issue of privacy back in April 2018, it was made clear that there was a large gap between the advancements of the tech world and the ability of policy to keep up with such advancements. People made fun of the senators for not understanding the model of social media platforms. Throughout Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, one can see random stickers declaring “Senator, We Run Ads”. 

Continue reading “CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY: THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS”

CAN SHANGHAI BE THE NEXT SILICON VALLEY?

By Emily Deng
Staff Writer

Chattering between the rows of UC San Diego’s Hojel Hall of Americas, people from both sides of the Pacific congregated to hear distinguished speakers Jim Wunderman, Dr. Jin Li, and David Michael discuss “How Innovation Works in California and Shanghai.” As part of the 2015 California-Shanghai Innovation Dialogue cosponsored by UC San Diego and Fudan University in Shanghai, the three speakers provided unique perspectives on what made Silicon Valley so successful and how Shanghai aims to become the next international hub of innovation.

The first speaker, Jim Wunderman, is the president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, “a CEO-led public policy organization focused on making the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley the most globally competitive and economically productive region in the world.” In his presentation, Wunderman described the technological revolution of the late-90s that made Silicon Valley its home base. The Bay Area was able to support the growing tech innovations due to the local culture and network of the area. The dynamic culture encouraged the acceptance of risk and failure, fostered innovation and new ideas, while the weather and local area provided a pleasant quality of life. Silicon Valley was easily accessible through several surrounding entries for physical connectivity, such as the San Francisco International Airport and the Port of Oakland, eventually making it the “hub of the Pacific Rim.” People from all over the world could easily travel to Silicon Valley and start something new.

Nearby universities, national laboratories and incubators were all constant sources of new research and opportunities for collaboration. These entities were able to come together in the “common space” of Silicon Valley, eventually becoming the birthplace of venture capital investments. In this way, Wunderman argued that there was no singular development model that Silicon Valley companies followed, but rather an open model of innovation that was drawn to an area full of opportunity and good weather. Wunderman’s presentation described the successes of the Silicon Valley as an almost serendipitous occurrence, with the timing of places, people and nice weather coming together perfectly. However, this begs the question, can Silicon Valley retain its title as the most prominent incubator of innovation in the world?

Dr. Jin Li begged to differ. Li is the Vice President of Fudan University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, and his goal is to build Shanghai up as the next global innovation center. Quoting President Xi Jinping, “Innovation is always an important force to drive development of a country and a nation,” and Li argued that innovation in China was necessary in order to keep the country moving forward.

However, he admitted, “China is in transition and still at the bottom of the learning curve.” Fudan University is better known as a liberal arts university, but Li hopes to move toward technological innovation and believes that Shanghai is the best place in China to do so. Thus far, Fudan has helped found the Zhangjiang Innopark/Hi-Tech Park, the Jiangwan Innovation Corridor, the Ningbo Fudan Research Institute and the Wuxi Fudan Research Institute.

These programs have become incubation environments and five start-up companies have grown from these incubation centers so far. One was the Fudan Microelectronics Group, the first of the spin-offs to be listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Then the Fudan-Zhanjiang Bio-Pharma Company was listed in 2002. However, the largest hindrances, the high business costs and poor environment for start-ups in China, still remain. Li argued that an open economy in China is necessary to produce greater innovation. He stated, “Innovation must be international, and China must be part of the world. There is no such thing as a Chinese-style innovation.”

Fudan University is playing a significant role in providing a better space for innovation in Shanghai, but I argue that its hindrances currently outweigh the University’s efforts. It will not be until the Chinese government also aligns itself toward the aim of encouraging innovation by implementing friendlier policies and lowering business costs that start-ups can begin to thrive. Finally, unlike Silicon Valley, Shanghai is a heavily polluted city with cold winters and a small, albeit growing, community of expatriates – not as pleasant environment.

The final speaker, David Michael described five necessary changes that he believed would generate innovation in Chinese cities, especially Shanghai. Michael was senior partner of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the former leader of “BCG’s Global Advantage Practice Area,” which focused on solutions for emerging markets. With his extensive experience in China, Michael saw the first necessary change as intellectual property protection including licensure, sharing, and patents. Michael argued that without patents, there would be no value to innovation. There is also a gap in China’s education that lacks the foundation for a start-up culture. Rather than rote memorization, education should focus more on how to work collaboratively in teams and how to be leaders. China’s government is also heavily integrated in its economy, as it is “characterized by very large state-owned companies.” As such, China would benefit from the increase of international, institutional investors to encourage venture capital investment. Finally, Michael argued that China’s role is integral in global innovation, as start-ups in Silicon Valley are utilizing China’s resources earlier than ever, such as China’s eBay equivalent TaoBao.

Thus, it is important for external forces to collaborate with Chinese entrepreneurs to develop a strong environment for innovation in China, as China needs more intellectual people from abroad to head their own innovation movement . These fivechanges could be directly applied to Shanghai’s current situation, where Li stated that the most obvious bottlenecks for innovation are in high business costs and a poor environment for start-ups. If Shanghai were to follow Michael’s suggestions, start-ups may begin flocking to Shanghai for its more open and hospitable environment.

To answer the question, I believe that Shanghai has the potential become the next global innovation center. Although Beijing also competes for the same title, Shanghai sets itself apart because its local economy is dominated by private businesses rather than state-owned enterprises like in Beijing, and it is home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Li also claimed that the major universities in Shanghai, such as Fudan University and Jiao Tong University, are very collaborative, while Beijing’s universities are more rivalrous. This collaboration encourages the most prominent academics to work together to solve problems, rather than compete against each other. Additionally, Shanghai has operated under the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (SPFTZ) since January 2013 that implemented major reforms in “foreign investment, financial, trade, and legal and regulatory systems” for a more liberalized market, which has been much more supportive for financial innovation.

However, it still will take continued structural changes and support from the government in order to do develop a flourishing environment for innovation in Shanghai. Currently, high fees and a rigid education system, which provides little encouragement for creativity and riskiness, squash the motivation to start small businesses. Wunderman stated, “China’s not run by business, it’s run by government. But its government is like a business.” Unlike Silicon Valley, it is important for China to have its government involved, though as Li argued, it “could do more to release its grip on asset management policies.”

To encourage innovation and start-up businesses, China must create an economic environment friendly to small businesses, including stronger intellectual property protection and lower business costs. The government appears to be making significant strides in this direction as the South China Morning Post recently announced the addition of 40 billion RMB (equivalent to 6.38 billion USD) to fund incubation programs, including the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park.

Finally, Shanghai must also work toward creating a pleasant physical environment. The city is vibrant with lively neighborhoods and good eats, but Shanghai must continue addressing its atrocious air pollution and hospitality toward foreigners to be included in the global innovation economy. Currently, China’s businesses are characterized by “copy-cat” companies and providing cheap labor for other companies. Rather than just exploiting Chinese labor, innovators from the United States should move toward a more equal, collaborative relationship and work with Chinese entrepreneurs to cultivate an innovative environment. As Wunderman aptly stated, “We should be strategic and helpful to China because we’re all a part of one big thing now. If they do well, we do well.”

Image by Gaëtan Bruneteau