Mass Migration: The Untold Crisis of Climate Refugees

Posted by on Aug 4, 2012 in Earth SOS, Environmental Issues, Featured Slide, Human Rights, RECENT POSTS, World Updates | Comments

Mass Migration: The Untold Crisis of Climate Refugees

By ANAM SULTAN Published August 4, 2012

Climate change has been on the radar for years now (we have documentaries such as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to thank for that), yet there is a crucial element of this problem that remains largely ignored. 

Over the past few decades there has been a rapid increase in the level of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere through human activities, which has led to global warming. The effect that global warming has on weather conditions around the world is known as climate change. Unnatural, long-term changes in climate conditions around the world can result in several things including loss of natural resources, wildlife extinction, ecosystem damage and extreme weather events (such as floods).

In developed countries, many don’t see climate change as a pressing concern for the time being; meanwhile, communities around the world are gathering their belongings and leaving their homes because of the effects that climate change has had on their environment. These people are known as climate refugees.

Who are Climate Refugees?

Climate refugees are people who are forced to migrate due to three direct climate change impacts – sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought/water scarcity. Depending on the ecological destruction their land faces, some are forced to leave temporarily, others permanently. Millions of climate refugees exist today, with a projected amount to reach 150 million by 2050. [1]

The Present Situation:

  • 12 million people live in poverty because of climate change
  • 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change
  • 250 million people are affected by desertification
  • 508 million people in water-stressed or water-scarce countries
  • 2.8 billion people live in areas of the world prone to more than one of the physical manifestations of climate change: floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise [2]

What Regions are Most at Risk?

Many of the communities at risk of extreme impacts from climate change are in poorer, developing countries. It is likely that most refugees escaping from extreme weather events and sea-level rise will be from Africa and Asia. [3] Asia is at high risk of extreme weather events and sea-level rise, but will also be severely affected by drought. Africa is especially vulnerable to drought and water scarcity, but many regions are also at high risk of sea-level rise. Latin America is particularly at risk of water stress and drought. Many small islands will be highly affected by even a moderate sea-level rise.

Where will Climate Refugees Go?

There is only so much room on our planet, and in many of these countries, it is already quite occupied. Adding more people to already highly populated cities will add stress to the resources available for that area. That being said, most refugees may stay in their countries and regions, especially in the case of coastal erosion and sea-level rise. [4] For example, as their land becomes eroded (or completely submerges), coastal communities in Bangladesh may move to Dhaka, where over 3 million people already live in slums. [5] Dhaka will swell even more with the addition of climate refugees. Not only will the new urban residents be competing for scarce resources in Dhaka, but the increase in population will only further degrade the environment for the city. International migration is not excluded. Climate change could cause a mass migration from Central America and the Caribbean islands to the United States, combined with more migration within Central America. [6]

Low on the Agenda

It does not help that a large number of the nations at risk already face serious issues such as high population densities, political instability, famine and a low level of per capita income. With so many other problems to consider, it isn’t surprising that there is not enough priority given to solving the climate refugee problem which, relatively speaking, is not affecting entire nations at large just yet. Also, because of financial constraints, many of these countries lack the resources (for example: proper infrastructure, community preparedness and compensation) to appropriately accommodate and prevent victims of climate change from having to migrate.

From a Justice Point of View

The irony with climate refugees rests in the fact that those being forced to leave their homes and land have played close to no role in increasing the rate of climate change. The level of greenhouse gases emitted by these developing countries is close to nothing in comparison to developed countries. So while industrialized nations continue to pump out pollutants by the ton and enjoy the luxury that is ignorant bliss, the effects are felt millions of miles away on villagers in self-sustaining communities, where people are forced to pay the price for the mistakes of developed countries.

What Can Be Done?

Currently, climate refugees are not protected or even recognized by international bodies such as the United Nations. Climate refugees should be recognized under international law as refugees and be given the same rights as refugees fleeing conflict from their country of origin. Developed countries can contribute by donating money that can be allocated for programming against climate change impacts in developing countries. Such programming will aid in preventative measures for communities, so that having to re-locate against climate change impacts is not the only option for them. Lastly, general public awareness around the world will motivate local and national governments to prioritize climate change and recognize it as a serious issue.  

For more information on climate refugees, visit:

Or see the trailer for the eye-opening documentary, “Climate Refugees”:


[1] Environmental Justice Foundation, 2011: .

[2] Environmental Justice Foundation, 2011: .

[3] Biermann, F. and Ingrid Boas. 2010. “Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees”. Global Environmental Politics 10 (1): 72.

[4] Biermann, F. and Ingrid Boas. 2010. “Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees”. Global Environmental Politics 10 (1): 69.

[5] Biermann, F. and Ingrid Boas. 2010. “Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees”. Global Environmental Politics 10 (1): 72.

[6] Biermann, F. and Ingrid Boas. 2010. “Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees”. Global Environmental Politics 10 (1): 69.

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