Every day people in the world are forced to flee their homes. If we don't slow down the climate crisis, 143 million people will be forced to flee by the year 2050. But are people fleeing because of climate change or because they can't make a living?
The climate crisis has become a greater threat than ever and the global average temperature has increased significantly since the industrial revolution. Among other things, climate change leads to more floods, droughts, increased sea levels and threatens entire ecosystems.
By 2050, 143 million people will be forced to flee due to climate change, according to World Bank. But this figure only includes climate refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. And although the term "climate refugee" is often used, it is not currently internationally recognized.
A refugee is a person who is protected by the UN Refugee Convention and who is often fleeing war or conflict. The Refugee Convention is an international convention that defines what a refugee is and what rights he has. A climate or environmental refugee, however, is not, legally speaking, a refugee with the same rights. A person fleeing temporarily or permanently from climate-related causes such as floods or droughts therefore does not have the same right to seek asylum.
- When it comes to cross-border movements, we are looking at a gaping legal hole, says Jose Riera, senior advisor in the department for international protection at the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
As it stands today, the poorest people contribute the least to climate change - but are the ones who are hit the hardest. Many poor people live in so-called "Hotspots" where they usually do not have enough resources to adapt to the changing climate.
With the climate crisis, a debate has arisen about whether climate change could result in mass migration. The increasing rate of extreme weather events such as prolonged drought, desertification or sea level rise already forces around 20 million people to leave their homes each year, according to UNHCR. However, many researchers believe that they are not fleeing the climate, but due to economic reasons. Climate change can lead to a bad harvest, but a bad harvest affects the ability to earn a living - and therefore many choose to migrate.
However, several studies have criticized the connection between the environment and migration and believe that it does exist too little reliable evidence to recognize the concept of climate refugees. Many therefore also choose to use the term "environmental migrants" instead, as they are not recognized refugees.
The scientist and the environmental activist Norman Myers believes, however, that climate-driven migration is one of the planet's biggest future crises. Myers also emphasizes that the climate changes that drive climate refugees also create other social, political and economic conflicts over, among other things, resources. Even Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR's representative in the Nordic and Baltic countries, sees migration as a global problem.
- It will require global solutions, he said in the seminar "The Nordics in the age of migration - challenges and new perspectives" during Almedal week 2022.
Women and children are hit hardest
- Climate change is a growing threat to peace and prosperity, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres during a speech on sustainable development in 2017.
Guterres believes that global warming contributes to strengthening threats that already exist. Weather phenomena such as drought and desertification make agriculture more difficult which creates food insecurity which drives people to migrate and contributes to overpopulated city centers. There is also the risk that climate change contributes to political instability, which increases the risk of war. This therefore drives more and more people to flee.
Several studies suggest that climate change acts as a catalyst for migration. A report from Save the Children and Oxfam shows that the drought is the most extreme it has been in 40 years in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The population continues to be affected due to increased wheat prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. According to the report, the percentage living just below the threshold of starvation in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia has increased by more than 50 percent in one year. This, in turn, can lead to people no longer being able to stay in the same place - and therefore choosing to migrate.
The likelihood of conflict increases when climate change affects people's living conditions both directly and indirectly. Arable land and grazing areas are just a few examples of important and limited resources where the availability of arable land continues to decrease. Limited natural resources such as drinking water are becoming even more scarce in many parts of the world that host refugees. The environment and people's livelihoods are threatened by climate change. People depend on what nature offers in the form of agriculture or fishing, which is greatly affected by a changing climate.
Women and children are one of the groups most affected by climate change. Girls are also one of the most vulnerable groups on the run. There is a greater risk that girls are forced to leave school than boys, in order to start working at home instead, they say Save the Children. The risk is also greater that girls are exposed to gender-based violence and exploitation while on the run, according to Erica Mattelin, psychologist and doctoral student at Linköping University, who spoke in the seminar "What helps children on the run - what risk and protective factors can we see?" in Almedalen.
Strong measures will be required not to exceed the global average temperature by 2°C. But what will happen to island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu when sea levels rise? The population from these island nations will be forced to flee when the islands sink below the sea level, but will the UN then change the definition of what a refugee is?
- Vulnerable people are forcibly displaced every day due to the effects of climate change. This is not something that will happen, it is something that is happening now, says the organization Climate Refugees.