Climate change, with few exceptions, is a fact accepted by most actors in the scientific, political and social spheres. As such, our institutions have no choice but to prepare for its impacts. For the purely natural ones, such as fires, crop failures, or the unusual floods experienced in Germany this summer. But also for the social impacts: here, no priority stands out as much as that of trying to anticipate climate migrations.
According to the non-profit organization ECODES, the number of climate migrants is currently between 20 and 30 million people. By 2050, however, it could soar into the billions. Preparing for the future global migration patterns that will be generated by those affected by climate change must therefore become a global priority.
Unsuccessful warnings and the impact of COVID-19
The phenomenon of climate-induced migration has increasingly attracted the attention of the international community in recent years. Over the past decade, there have been numerous warnings from international bodies that, without comprehensive and long-term measures to address climate change, countries around the world would experience significant disruptive migration patterns.
Among these warnings was that of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has estimated that the greatest impact of the climate crisis may be human migration caused by the environmental consequences of climate change. This included plausible events such as coastal erosion, flooding of island populations, agricultural disruption and forest fires.
It is also true that the impact of COVID-19 has only put another stone in the path of refugees, migrants and forcibly displaced persons. Among other reasons, because xenophobic and extreme right-wing groups have found in the pandemic the perfect excuse to try to prolong the migratory blockades which, at first, were limited to combating the spread of the virus. Thus, the situation of climate migrants has only worsened.
Worsening of the climatic situation
To top it all off, all this is happening at a time when the causes of climate change are expected to worsen, despite the fact that the economic consequences of COVID-19 initially seemed to point to the contrary.
A study also endorsed by the UN — Production Gap Report 2020 — has projected that coal, oil and gas production will grow in this decade despite the drop caused by the pandemic. And that the growth of fossil fuels will lead to a significant increase in CO2 emissions, precisely those that cause and intensify climate change.
The report anticipates a 2% annual increase in global fossil fuel production this decade, at a time when annual emissions cuts of 6% are needed to reach the 1.5°C warming limit. That, at least, was the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
How many migrants are we talking about?
Despite efforts by organizations such as ECODES, the challenge of accurately estimating how many people climate change displaces or will displace is limited by the lack of monitoring. What is certain is that climate change will amplify existing migration pressures and drivers, in addition to causing immediate displacement due to catastrophic and unpredictable climate-related weather events.
It is no discovery that the latter are occurring with greater frequency and intensity in recent times. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) has noted that mass migrations triggered by extreme weather events are becoming the norm and that, in 2019, natural disasters caused 24.9 million people to leave their homes.
There is no doubt about it: this situation will require significant strategic planning and capacity building to prepare for internal migration. It will also be necessary to plan for a certain amount of international resettlement, including avenues for regular migration, as there will be people who cannot be resettled within their countries of origin due to large-scale destruction or potential conflict if they move internally.
Faced with such a critical climate scenario, the option of taking urgent action is no longer an option, but an obligation. However, for now, the great absentee from the COP26 climate summit has been none other than this very one: climate migration. Symptomatic.
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