Climate refugees are those fleeing the effects of climate change on their homes. This may happen due to one or more of:
- Sea level rise causing a loss of land for habitation and crops
- Weather-induced flooding
- Ecosystem and local climate disruption causing a change in availability or viability of food (fishing, [foraging], crops and/or livestock). Food security is a critical, immediate concern in many parts of the world.
- Lack of drinking water.
Some of these problems can be overcome (see climate change mitigation), such as building sea walls and other protective defenses, but others cannot.
Problems caused by climate have already contributed to large permanent migrations. Future climate refugees could eventually number in the hundreds of millions, by some estimates.
The First Climate Refugees[edit | edit source]
In early 2006, 980 residents of the Carteret Atolls began to evacuate to Bougainville,W Papua New Guinea.. They were affected by minor rises in sea levels which caused erosion of land and soil salinization, reducing the viability of their agriculture.
Other communities which can expect to be hit soonest by rising sea levels include:
- Maldives - the highest point is 2 meters above sea level.
- Bangladesh - it is estimated that 30 million people will be displaced if sea levels rise by one meter.
North American Climate Refugees[edit | edit source]
The United States is already feeling the effects of climate change and likewise has a number of communities that are already at high risk of disappearing. Most of these communities are in low lying areas just barely above sea level, where even an inch makes a huge difference. In particular Louisiana and Maryland are already experiencing land loss and communities are having to make the tough decision of whether to stay or move. In the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island is losing about 8 acres of land a day. 
Latin American Climate Refugees[edit | edit source]
Since about 2012 Central America has been experiencing a severe drought and climate change is almost certainly the culprit, rains that had been fairly regular in the region have shifted disrupting planting. Where Spring rain was somewhat reliable, now if the rains come, they cause too much flooding. Increasingly communities from Central America have been migrating north through Mexico and towards the United States. While not all of the population trying to enter the US from the Mexican border are fleeing climate change, a large number of them are. The crisis at the US border and the American response can be seen as a snapshot of things to come. 
Politics[edit | edit source]
The Maldives political leaders have lobbied for climate change to be recognized internationally as a human rights issue, but with little success. The Kiribati president has referred to climate change as a form of terrorism, and expressed frustration that while attacks on the US mobilized support, the threat of climate change has not brought about similar action, in the form of assistance from other countries, for vulnerable countries such as Kiribati.
Refugees are defined in the UN's Refugee Convention as people fleeing persecution. It is unlikely that this definition could be successfully argued, legally, to include those fleeing climate change.Climate change: Indian Ocean, 29 November 2011.
Notes and references[edit | edit source]
- "Pacific Atlantis: first climate change refugees" - Guardian
- "American Climate Refugees Are An Early Warning For The Nation" - Earth And Main
- "Louisiana’s New Climate Plan Prepares For Resilience And Retreat As Sea Level Rises"- Inside Climate News"
- "One Suspected Driver Of The Migrant Caravan: Climate Change" - CNN
- "The Latin American Migrant Caravan Are Climate Refugees" - Earth And Main
- Climate change: Indian Ocean, 29 November 2011.
- The 1951 Refugee Convention
See also[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- Wikipedia: Environmental migrant
- Wikipedia: Norman Myers, British environmentalist and specialisting in biodiversity, who has written about climate refugees.
[edit | edit source]
- Law Report podcasts (Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National):
- Climate Refugees documentary film
- Feared Migration Hasn't Happened - UN Embarrassed by Forecast on Climate Refugees, May 18 2011. (Note that the original suggestion by a scientist that "The environmental refugees total could well double between 1995 and 2010" appears to have been blown out of proportion.)