Migration in the Age of Climate Change

Migration in the Age of Climate Change

By Madeleine Lemos

As climate change begins to reshape landscapes and lifestyles, many communities are often left with a distinct scarcity of resources or inhabitable conditions. The people living in these communities, many of whom are displaced and forced to emigrate, make up the world’s growing number of “climate migrants.” The World Bank estimates that over the past decade there has been an average of 24 million people displaced, with numbers projected to reach 143 million displaced by 2050.

This map shows the global displacement that took place in 2017. Displacement that was a result of disasters is represented in blue, while displacement that was the result of conflict is shown in orange. The Intentional Displacement Monitoring Centre gathers information annually, recording new displacement.

Climate migrants are often forced to relocate for a number of reasons. These can include things from crop scarcity to water shortages, or make be because of one time events such as extreme weather. Sea level, too, posses a threat to communities based along coasts. These effects can already be seen in communities in Louisiana, where sea levels have begun to encroach upon towns near the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, many people in coastal communities in Bangladesh have already had to move into inland urban centers, putting stress on resources and causing an increase in population growth.

Many communities in Puerto Rico that were affected by Hurricane Maria have yet to rebuild, or even regain sufficient water and power. In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change has meant a decrease in annual rain-fall, and with it a migration out of countries where crop growth has stalled.

Climate change has led to a growing population of people around the globe who have been displaced both within their own nations and across borders. Climate change brings increased extremity in weather, rising sea levels, new threats of disease. It is projected to become increasingly disruptive to everyday life, especially in countries that do not have the resources to invest in infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change.

This increased number of people displaced by climate change has prompted a discussion around the way “refugee” and “asylum” are both defined andĀ  qualified as. Up until recently, much of the conversations about migration and climate change have been kept separate. A United Nations (UN) Task Force on Displacement was set up in the wake of the Paris Accord in order to help prevent and address displacement issues, focusing both nationally and internationally.

It is increasingly important that conversations surrounding climate migration take place, and that nations rethink their definitions for refugee status or asylum, as more of the world is and will continued to be affected by climate change.


Sources: NPR, National Geographic, New York TimesĀ 

Graphics Source: IDMC

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