The Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts. Since the turn of the century the Earth’s surface temperature has increased over one degree Celsius, with the majority of warming taking place since the 1980’s. Adapting to this changing global climate may be the greatest challenge we as a species have ever had to face.
Natural disasters are becoming stronger, more frequent and are forcing whole communities to leave their homes in search of a new beginning. UNHCR estimates that one person every second has been displaced by a disaster since 2009 and an average of 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008.
Imagine the entire population of Taiwan or Niger (with respective national populations in 2017 at 23.6 and 21.4 million) forced to move because of extreme deprivation, environmental degradation or climate change-induced events.
Forecasts estimate that around 162 million people are at risk of sea level rise, and droughts will threaten an estimated 50 million people by 2050. The droughts will destroy the agricultural potential of areas where farmers live and work, which will force them to move to other places. For instance, the Gobi Desert in China expands 3600 square kilometres a year, and Morocco, Tunisia and Libya lose 1000 square kilometres of ‘productive land’ every year to desertification.
A June 2017 NPR article titled ‘Mapping the Potential Economic Effects Of Climate Change’ points out that climate change will redistribute wealth by driving workers, businesses and agriculture away from those hard-hit regions and move them mostly toward areas less commonly affected (at least for now).
The drivers for displacement vary around the world and most climate refugees seek help internally and become internally displaced persons or migrants. But, according to IOM, international migration is likely to increase in the future and will necessitate policy and programme responses that are currently lacking in most destination countries in the developed world.
Climate refugees already exist in the United States, China and Africa, among other places, states Dante Disparte in a June 2017 HBR article titled: ‘If You Think Fighting Climate Change Will Be Expensive, Calculate the Cost of Letting It Happen’.