An even less convenient truth: climate change means more refugees

February 3rd, 2017

We’ve been hearing a lot about refugees, and a lot about climate change. But something I find alarming is how seldom we hear about them in the same train of thought. The reality is that rich countries in the Northern hemisphere will experience climate change, in large part, as a mass migration of environmental refugees who no longer have the means to make a living off the land, and seek resources beyond their political borders. 

And it won’t just be a controlled migration of pacific islanders. It will be a large-scale uprooting of people from arid and semi arid regions who no longer have enough water for drinking, agriculture, and animal husbandry. It will be the hundreds of thousands left without shelter, basic services, or clean water after tropical storms and floods. It will be urban dwellers, driven away from precarious coastal slums. The scale will be unprecedented.  

So while we reflect on safeguarding the rights of political refugees, let us not miss the opportunity to look ahead at preserving the dignity of the millions of climate change refugees to come (and indeed, they are already on the move). Things we can do are: 

  • Become informed about your country’s contribution to the Platform on Disaster Displacement –  a state-led process that began in 2012 to deal with this issue 
  • Discuss with colleagues, family and friends what it means to be a refugee, and how this definition might evolve
  • Promote tolerance and counter fear by sharing your migration story, asking about others’ migration stories, and keeping the human perspective close