Climate crisis will force millions to migrate unless we act, says Cop27 report author

Failure to act will force more people from their homes, says Dr Barbora Sedova

Waste from wealthier nations often ends up in poorer countries such as Pakistan. AP
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Actions such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could cut by up to 80 per cent the number of people forced to migrate as a result of climate change, a co-author of a report released at Cop27 said.

Dr Barbora Sedova, a researcher behind 10 New Insights in Climate Science, said migration caused by climate change would put the greatest pressure on low and middle-income countries, which are least able to cope.

Climate change is already causing human migration, and without significant measures to mitigate it, such as reducing the release of greenhouse gases to adapt to it and to support communities affected, migration will grow.

Climate change has the ability to trap people in vulnerable situations
Dr Barbora Sedova, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

“My hope is that decision-makers recognise that climate change mitigation is essential to limit the adverse impacts of climate change in the future, to reduce the necessity for people to leave their homes,” said Dr Sedova, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“At the same time they should recognise that to some extent we will see climate change impacts and climate migration. We’ll need to adapt.”

Worst-hit nations

The report says that in countries such as Cambodia, Nicaragua, Peru, Uganda, Vietnam and Bangladesh, a lack of money has meant that people have been unable to leave their communities even after experiencing extreme climate events.

“In this particular context [of lack of wealth], climate change has the ability to trap people in vulnerable situations,” she said, adding that worse health may also make it impossible for people to adapt and move.

“In rural sub-Saharan Africa, we see strong evidence of climate change-related immobility. The poorest are unable to move and adapt to the climate change impacts.”

In some countries, such as India, both effects — climate change forcing certain people to leave their communities, while trapping others who may wish to migrate — are seen.

The report says 1.6 billion people already live in “vulnerability hotspots”, which are areas at-risk from climate change hazards. By 2050, the number is set to double.

In highlighting the stresses created by climate migration, it calls for anticipatory measures to assist climate-related mobility and to minimise displacement.

It also warns that measures to cope with climate change will not be able to keep up with the most severe effects.

The report is produced annually by environmental research programme Future Earth, a network of scientists and institutions called The Earth League, and a World Meteorological Organisation and the World Climate Research Programme.

Dr Sedova highlighted a separate World Bank study, released last year, that suggested that up to 216 million people could be forced from their homes as a result of the slow-onset effects of climate change, such as gradual changes in temperature and rainfall. Extreme weather events will have an impact on top of this.

That report also indicated that the numbers forced to leave because of climate change could be reduced by four-fifths if more effort is made to mitigate climate change, to adapt to it and to promote inclusive economic development, such as helping poorer nations to develop.

“The extent of climate change mobility will strongly depend on the climate change scenario,” Dr Sedova said. "[In] this study from the World Bank, under the most pessimistic scenario, you can see a tremendous number, up to 216 million.

“But the numbers can be reduced through climate action. Both mitigation and adaptation will determine the extent of climate migration.”

Middle East and drought

Sheep are gathered in their enclosure in the countryside of Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province in May 28, 2022.  Syria is among the countries most vulnerable and poorly prepared for climate change. AFP

The Middle East is among the regions where climate change has already caused migration. Dr Sedova said in Syria severe drought caused migration to urban areas before civil war broke out in 2011.

“This is an interesting example of how climate impacts can drive mobility, and this climate mobility can add pressures to urban centres that then face a lot of conflict,” she said.

“This climate mobility was not the root cause [of the conflict], but an additional pressure.”

Low and middle-income nations in particular face “massive policy challenges” from having to accommodate and integrate climate change migrants who flee to urban areas.

“The global north [wealthier nations] also experiences climate change, but they have much more resources to adapt, so migration is often not necessary,” Dr Sedova said.

Climate change has already done “irreversible damage”, Dr Sedova said, so support for “loss and damage”, which has been a focus of Cop27 discussions, in terms of wealthier nations supporting poorer countries that are facing harm from climate change, is important.

Updated: November 16, 2022, 7:00 AM