LONDON, 30 May 2006 – The growing number of people who migrate from developing countries to over-populated Western states in search of a better life is damaging the planet and could be avoided, a British think-tank said today.
Governments and aid agencies should encourage families to stay put by tackling environmental degradation, such as the spread of deserts, that forces many to leave, rather than promote migration, said the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), a British group that campaigns for a sustainable population.
At the same time, Britain should continue to fulfil its humanitarian obligation to genuine refugees and asylum-seekers, the think-tank said in evidence to a parliamentary inquiry on population.
Parts of the planet that have been damaged by climate change, soil erosion and water shortages merely deteriorate further once their inhabitants flee.
In addition, migrants typically increase their ecological footprint – the damage each person inflicts on the environment – by moving from low- to high-consuming countries.
“The priority must surely be to prevent or cure environmental damage, and help people to remain in their homes and communities, not abandon damaged areas of the planet to their fate,” the OPT said in a report.
The ecological footprint of someone from Bangladesh increases 16-fold if he or she emigrates to the United States, while that of a Somali citizen rises more than 13-times when he or she migrates to Britain.
The push factors behind migration can only be solved by reducing the impact of consumption and population in richer countries and supporting environmentally-sustainable development in poorer nations, the OPT said.
“Currently, however, excess immigration into countries which are already densely populated can cause substantial environmental damage and economic costs, the effects of which may not be seen until the pressures on land and natural resources become intense,” it warned.
Britain, for example is more densely populated than China.
England alone is the world’s fourth most crowded country – behind Bangladesh, South Korea and the Netherlands – with migration accounting for more than 80 per cent of population growth.
“With parts of the country already facing serious water supply problems, population growth on this scale will make the U.K. increasingly vulnerable to resource and energy shortages and will increase its contribution to climate change,” the think-tank warned.
OPT patron Aubrey Manning said Britain was morally obliged to accept some migrants “but we need immigration like we need a hole in the head.”
On a global scale, he said: “People are in surplus and often those most needed at home are those who leave. A gradual reduction to our population is the only way to secure any quality of life for future human beings.”
The total number of migrants worldwide surged from 175 million to 185-to-192 million between 2000 and 2005, the group said.
Of these, an estimated 30 million migrants were forced from their homes by environmental factors, including floods, famine and over-population.
Environmental degradation is seen forcing a further 135 million people out of their homes in the future.
Such migration coupled with ongoing population growth is undermining efforts to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the think-tank added.
It advised governments to work out what populations could be sustained, with the best quality of life and without causing environmental damage elsewhere.
The OPT believes the planet may not be able to support more than half its present population of some 6.58 billion people in the next century.