Climate Migration

Have you ever imagined if your town, the place where you grew up, had significant experiences, and call home, was slowly disappearing, becoming uninhabitable, or just suddenly destroyed from one moment to the next? Drought, floods, forest fires, rising sea levels and other extreme weather conditions have become the evident consequences of climate change. Aside from the impact climate change has on our environment and animal species, it has also shown a direct impact on humanity and on people we nowadays call climate migrants. These are people who are forced to leave their habitual homes to search for a new place to live, due to sudden or progressive changes in their surrounding environment. In the past years, we have witnessed an increase in the frequency and intensity of these climate events, and consequently in the displacement of people. The World Bank estimates 140 million people could be displaced until 2050 and thus become climate migrants.

“A climate migrant is a person who is forced to leave their home, due to changes in their environment.”

There are two main scenarios of climate or environmental migrants: 1) evacuating or being displaced due to immediate disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, or earthquakes or 2) deciding to migrate insight of slower progressive environmental degradation, like flooding, drought or rising sea levels. Some of these migrants evacuate temporarily, waiting for conditions to become more favourable to return, while most have to leave permanently. Recent research suggests it is three times more likely to be displaced by natural disasters than by conflict or war. Most of these displacements occur internally, within the borders of a country, but as climate change worsens, many displaced people are being forced to seek entrance to other countries.

Climate Migration around the world

Humankind, the source of this problem, has now become the victim. However, those who suffer the most are often vulnerable populations, which are marginalized or suffering in poverty. This phenomenon enhances the existing social inequalities and injustices. While wealthy and industrialized countries drastically pollute the earth, the countries who suffer the most consequences are in the global south in three main regions: South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The richest 10% produce 50% of the Earth’s global pollution, while the affected regions produce only 10%. In the past few years, South Asia has had the highest rate of displaced people due to disasters, mostly related to typhoons and floods. The second majorly affected region is Sub-Saharan Africa, suffering from droughts and consequent lack of food security and livelihood. The third is Latin America with droughts, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and tropical storms.

“The richest 10% produce 50% of the Earth’s global pollution.”

In most of these cases, environmental changes are one of many reasons why people decide to migrate, as social and political motives often coexist. However, we are already witnessing situations in which climate change is the only reason for migration, which is clearly the case in the Pacific Islands. The sea level is rising at a rapid pace, due to a combination of ocean expansion and increased runoff from the melting continental glaciers. Eight islands have already been submerged and two more are almost disappearing. It is estimated that by 2100, 48 islands will have sunk into the sea. Where do all these islander populations go? Most have tried to seek refuge in other nearby islands or countries, but have very limited opportunities to live and work overseas in a larger country.

“It is estimated that by 2100, 48 islands will have sunk into the sea.”

Current situation

We need to acknowledge climate change is no longer an abstract narrative used by politicians or environmentalists to raise awareness on how our societies need to become more sustainable. It is a present reality, in which many communities around the world are progressively no longer able to live in a safe and secure environment, and therefore their human rights are at risk. The United Nation does not formally recognize the status of Climate Refugees, therefore people still can not legally seek asylum only as a result of environmental dangers. It is critical to also legally address the situation of these people and thus protect the livelihoods of displaced populations, as well as recognize the collateral effects of the loss of their land and homes. Aside from a geographical and terrestrial loss, these people become “homeless” as a nation or tribe. The social and cultural consequences are just as serious.

This is certainly a complex subject which involves many variants. It is relevant to us at CRØSS THE.LINE to keep informing ourselves on the holistic panorama of what is happening around the world, and how we as individuals contribute to it. If this is a topic that calls your attention and you are eager to know more, you can explore the following articles and videos:

by Sara-Lisa Gujral

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