2 billion climate refugees within 83 years

 By Amanda Saint

Climate change is an issue that can no longer be ignored or questioned…

It is affecting millions of people all over the world each day and latest figures predict that by the end of the century there will be 2 billion climate refugees—those whose homes have become uninhabitable due to the effects of climate change.
At the same time, the rise in the global population will continue to put more strain on dwindling resources with current estimates showing that by 2100 the number of humans on the planet will have grown to just over 11 billion. Rising sea levels have already made many communities uninhabitable and climate change is affecting countries across the developed and developing world in the form of floods, droughts, intense heatwaves, crop failures, forest fires, higher intensity and more frequent storms, desertification, ocean acidification…the list goes on.

A recent paper published by Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell University, Charles Geisler, and Ben Currens, an earth and environmental scientist at the University of Kentucky, estimates that by that time 18 percent of the human population will have become refugees a result of climate change.
The paper ‘Impediments to inland resettlement under conditions of accelerated sea level rise‘ was published in the July 2017 edition of Land Use Policy and in a statement issued by Cornell University, Professor Geisler, said: “We’re going to have more people on less land and sooner than we think. The future rise in global mean sea level probably won’t be gradual.”

Climate change impacts

Professor Geisler’s paper looks at how global mean sea level rise (GMSLR), which is driven by the multiple effects of human-induced climate change, can potentially have dramatic effects way beyond the coastline. The research also explores the huge impact on inland land use planning and habitability.
But these are future scenarios and there are already millions of people that have already been displaced by the effects of climate change. Figures from the UN Refugee Agency show that on average 21.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes due to sudden weather-related hazards—such as floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperatures – every year for the past 9 years.
Climate refugees are mainly displaced internally within their own countries, for now, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) is working to compile knowledge on the global scale and patterns of internal displacement.

The organization provides regular Internal Displacement Updates on its website and the data shows that in June 2017 the following climate refugees were created:
• Over 660,000 people evacuated in the southern provinces of Anhui, Chongqing, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunnan, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan and Zhejiang between 22 and 27 June because of heavy rainfall, floods and landslides. (Update Issue 20)
• Approximately 22,000 people in Myanmar were displaced by strong winds and heavy rainfall from Cyclone Mora, which made landfall on 30 May and destroyed about 4,700 houses. (Update Issue 19)
• At least 78,000 people were displaced from Sri Lanka’s Southern and Western provinces, following flash floods and landslides that destroyed at least 1,500 houses and cut off many rural villages. (Update Issue 18)

Cyclone Mora (NASA, Wikimedia)

Global phenomena

The reality of climate change can seem very removed in the highly developed countries of Western Europe and the U.S. but the impacts are being felt there too.
Many European countries have just experienced one of the hottest Junes since records began. This intense heat created a major forest fire in Spain that displaced more than 1,500 people from their homes. Holiday makers in campsites and hotels were also evacuated. In Portugal, a forest fire killed more than 60 people. The UK, Belgium and Switzerland all had record breaking temperatures this year.

These intense heat events across the continent prompted World Weather Attribution (WWA), a partnership of Climate Central, the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute (Oxford ECI), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the University of Melbourne, and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (the Climate Centre), to instigate research into whether this intense heat was a result of human-driven climate change and if the frequency of such occurrences is likely to increase. The conclusion they reached is that the answer to both questions is “Yes.”
In the U.S., storms such as Katrina and Sandy have made global headlines in recent years for the significant damage and displacement they have caused.

Mashed house after Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh (Mayeenul Islam, Wikimedia)

Future changes
Climate refugees are not a thing of the future—they are a reality of today and global leaders need to work together to try and limit the future impacts of climate change and provide structured responses for the people affected.
Professor Geisler’s paper has examples of tangible solutions and proactive adaptations that are being made in places like Florida and China, which are coordinating coastal and interior land-use policies in anticipation of coming weather-induced population shifts.

SEE MORE: Refugee camps powered by renewable energy by Chris Dalby

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.