How Climate Change Leads to More Refugees

Credit(s): Seth Sidney Berry, SOPA Images, LightRocket via Getty Images

A refugee.

Someone who has crossed international borders in search of asylum, often escaping persecution due to race, religion, etc.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in Australia, 1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate change threats by 2050. And yet, they will never be considered true refugees due to the current definition.

Climate change has led to the displacement of many individuals. Though countries like the United States and Canada emit greenhouse gases, others countries are most affected. The 5 countries most affected by climate change include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Haiti, and Senegal. Refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and the stateless are on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

Credit(s): Vlad Tchompalov via Unsplash

This is because many live in climate “hotspots” where a lack of resources hinders their ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. From worsening living conditions to limited natural resources, climate change causes an abundance of problems for people’s livelihoods. Moreover, it also causes extreme weather events (e.g. prolonged droughts and abnormal amounts of rain), which have caused more than 20 million people to leave their homes.

In recent years, sea levels rising has become frequent due to climate change. In a number of coastal areas, it has been reported that the risk of rising sea levels has increased from affecting 160 million people to 260 million in the last 30 years. For countries like Bangladesh, it has been predicted that 17% of the country will be submerged by 2050.

Credit(s): Phillipe Rekacewicz via GRID Arendal

Luckily, the United Nations has begun to aid these climate refugees. In 2018, the UN adopted the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which states that one of the factors that cause the displacement of millions is “the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation,” such as natural disasters. It aims to help protect people seeking refuge because of climate-related issues.

In 2020, the UN Refugee Agency deployed teams in Central America and southern Mexico to provide relief to the people who had been affected by Hurricane Eta, one of the worst weather-related events in the region in the past two decades.

Still, there are many problems with the adoption of policies that would truly aid climate refugees. For one, there is a lack of a clear climate refugee definition (as the refugee definition does not include them). As such, there is a lack of data surrounding climate refugees, which makes it difficult to create solutions.

Credit(s): UNHCR

As climate change continues to worsen, more must be done to protect and aid those who are most vulnerable to its effects. For one, countries producing high greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to displacement, must be taxed and make plans to reduce their emissions. Additionally, climate refugees must be recognized, so that they may receive the same resources as those displaced from crises, such as war.

References & Resources to Learn More:

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