Climate change could displace 216 million people by 2050, World Bank says

Taking 'decisive collective action' could reduce climate migration by as much as 80%

US President Biden, who is pushing a giant infrastructure spending bill, including major funding for the green economy, argues that extreme weather across the US this summer is a harbinger of worse climate change to come. AFP
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Climate change could force 216 million people around the world to move within their countries by 2050, with hotspots of internal climate migration emerging as early as 2030, the World Bank said.

The climate change-induced migration could hit the poorest countries the hardest, unless urgent action is taken to reduce global emissions, the lender said.

By 2050, there could be as many as 86 million internal climate migrants in Sub-Saharan Africa (or 4.2 per cent of the total projected population), 49 million in East Asia and the Pacific, 40 million in South Asia, 19 million in North Africa, 17 million in Latin America and five million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to the lender's updated Groundswell report released on Monday.

"[The report] is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest – those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” Juergen Voegele, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, said. “All these issues are fundamentally connected which is why our support to countries is positioned to deliver on climate and development objectives together while building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future.”

The UN on Monday warned that the “triple planetary crises” of climate change, pollution and nature loss, represented the biggest threat to human rights globally. The International Monetary Fund is also urging countries to scale up green investments and set a higher global carbon pricing floor to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also forced governments around the world to consider ways of rebuilding more sustainable economies and use the global crisis as an opportunity to better tackle climate change challenges to avert future disasters.

Climate change is a "powerful" driver of internal migration because of its impact on people’s livelihoods and loss of liveable conditions in highly exposed locations due to heat stress, extreme events and land loss, the World Bank said. People may be forced to move within their countries due to the impact of climate change-related challenges such as increasing water scarcity, declining crop productivity and rise in sea level.

Of the six world regions examined in the two reports, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have the largest number of internal climate migrants.

North Africa is projected to have the largest share of internal climate migrants relative to total population, the report said. This is due to severe water scarcity, as well as the impacts of sea-level rise on densely populated coastal areas and in the Nile Delta.

The projections for internal climate migration underscore the urgency for early action, the Washington-based lender said.

Climate change could shift things in ways that may force people to migrate in distress, which could put significant pressures on both sending and receiving areas, if left unplanned, it said.

"Countries that have made important development gains may see their progress threatened and some could face existential challenges related to habitability. Compounding shocks, including conflicts, situations of fragility, and health and economic crises also impact decisions to move, while simultaneously reducing the capacity to cope, adapt and rebound," the report said.

However, if well managed, internal climate migration and related shifts in population distribution can become part of an effective adaptation strategy, allowing people to rise out of poverty, build resilient livelihoods and improve their living conditions, it pointed out.

Taking "immediate and concerted" action to reduce global emissions and support green, inclusive and resilient development, could reduce the scale of climate migration by as much as 80 per cent, according to the World Bank report.

It suggests policy recommendations that can help slow the factors driving climate migration and prepare for expected migration flows.

It recommends cutting global emissions now and making all efforts to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. It also suggests embedding internal climate migration in far-sighted green, resilient and inclusive development planning. Countries should be preparing for each phase of migration, so that internal climate migration can result in positive development outcomes. Governments must also invest in understanding the drivers of climate migration through evidence-based research, models and consultations, to inform policy response.

"The call for solutions on internal climate migration cannot be subscribed to the very communities who would have to move in response to the increasing intensity and frequency of climate change impacts," the report said. "Early and far-sighted global, regional and national action is imperative to address the urgent challenges at the nexus of climate, migration, and development and foster momentum toward inclusive, sustainable and resilient economic transitions for all."

Updated: September 13, 2021, 1:58 PM