Climate change is provoking mass human migration. According to scientists, 50 million people worldwide will be displaced this year because of rising sea levels, desertification, dried up aquifers, weather-induced flooding, and other severe environmental changes.
A joint study by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre shows that in 2008 climate-related natural disasters forced 20 million people out of their homes.
Research conducted by the Red Cross shows that more people today migrate due to environmental disaster than because of violent conflict.
Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs Director at the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University is the author of a recently published study on linkages between climate change and migration in Mexico. The study is among the first attempts to put hard numbers to issues of “environmental migrants”.
Oppenheimer told MediaGlobal, “In the future, we expect climate change to influence human migration through a variety of pathways. Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and causing global warming and a multitude of climate changes, including shifts of ecosystems and species and acidification of the oceans.”
The worldwide population boom and reduced economic opportunity in rural areas are major factors that have brought about the largest worldwide migration in recent history.
Sidney Weintraub, professor emeritus at the University of Texas told MediaGlobal, “Mexico’s poorest part of the population lives in rural areas. That is why we see a lot of migration from rural to urban areas. There is not much rainfall in Central Mexico. Mexican farmers, however, depend on rainfall if they want to make a living.”
There are no reliable estimates of climate change-induced migration; however, future forecasts predict between 25 million and 1 billion “environmental migrants” by 2050. These migrants will move either within their country or internationally.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, Head of Media and Communication of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told MediaGlobal, “Climate change is putting a lot of pressure on infrastructure. The worldwide trend goes towards internal and international migration as we can particularly witness in Mongolia, Bangladesh and the Sahel Region. Pacific island states like Vanuatu and Tuvalu can no longer maintain themselves and will not survive without adequate concepts to change the current state.”
In Tuvalu tides flood the streets, ruin houses, destroy aquifers and crops, kill fish and wildlife. Total immersion could also be the fate of Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, and Papua New Guinea. Lake Chad in Eastern Niger and Lake Saguibine in Northern Mali were once vast lakes but have since evaporated and become arid deserts.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) released a statement earlier this week declaring that more stringent actions to reduce emissions could not be much longer postponed and called upon industrial nations to take the lead. This implicates adapting to climate change, limiting emissions growth, providing adequate finance, boosting the use of clean technology, and promoting sustainable forestry.
However, at the UN climate conference held in Copenhagen last December, no consensus could be reached on specific targets to limit and reduce carbon emissions; countries remain divided over sharing the cost of cutting carbon emissions. The fate of regions susceptible to climate change will be high on the agenda of a major upcoming international conference in Cancun this November.
UN delegates will have another round of climate talks in China this coming October before the High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) is expected to present a final report to UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon for the next conference of parties to the UNFCC in Mexico. To avoid a conflict between developing and developed nations over emissions cuts, there could be two separate deals, which are designed to co-exist.