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Ed Markey wants US to admit at least 50,000 refugees a year fleeing climate change

Senator Ed Markey.
Senator Ed Markey. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

WASHINGTON—Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey wants the US to admit at least 50,000 people a year who have been displaced by climate change.

Markey, who is eager to tout his environmental credentials in a primary race with Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, on Friday introduced legislation instructing the State Department to create a new humanitarian program for those refugees. It would be part of a formal strategy the bill would direct the State Department to establish to help deal with what he called “migration driven by climate change.”

“We cannot allow climate-displaced persons to fall through the cracks in our system of humanitarian protections simply because they do not meet the definition of refugee,” Markey said. “America has the capacity and should be the global leader in resettlement, and that means equally responding to climate-displaced individuals as we do refugees.”

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The bill would potentially allow more environmental refugees to be admitted to the US each year if the president determines that is necessary. The legislation also includes broader goals about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and aiding other countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change.

However, Markey’s attempt to take in more people fleeing rising sea levels and environmental disasters comes as the Trump administration continues to restrict the overall number of refugees admitted into the country. On Thursday, the State Department announced it would accept 18,000 refugees during the next 12 months. That is down from the current limit of 30,000 and far below the 110,000 President Barack Obama said should be allowed into the United States in 2016.

It is unclear how many people across the world may become climate refugees in the near future, but the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration estimates that between 25 million and 1 billion people will be forced to leave their homes by 2050 as a result of climate change.

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A draft of Markey’s bill cites multiple instances of large numbers of people losing their homes because of climate change, including 3 million people in India after extreme flooding this year, and 15 million people affected by typhoons and storms in the Philippines since 2013.

Markey’s staff said his legislation is endorsed by several organizations, including the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The measure comes after the United Nations held its climate action summit on Monday and on the heels of climate protests around the world over the past week.

Still, any climate change legislation faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate. Markey, who along with New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing“Green New Deal” legislation, will likely have trouble getting the 60 votes his refugee bill would need to advance.

Markey also sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday expressing concern over a report by The Guardian that the Trump administration has pressured the International Organization for Migration to remove references to climate change from its documents or risk losing US funding. The UN organization works with governments on international migration.

“While President Donald Trump may foolishly and dangerously continue to deny climate

science and the peril our planet faces, it is unacceptable for the State Department to effectively

extort recipients of U.S. funding into toeing the administration’s climate-denial line,” Markey wrote.

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Markey has made climate change a signature piece of his campaign. This month, he called for a November debate on climate change in the Massachusetts Senate race, which includes two other lesser known candidates along with Kennedy.

“I thank all of my opponents in advance, and all the people of Massachusetts who show me every day how committed they are to fighting the climate crisis. Together, we can save our planet,” Markey said in a video last weekend.


Ryan Wangman can be reached at ryan.wangman@globe.com