Photo source: Vlad Sokhin
Imagine finding yourself without a home, your family without shelter.
Most of us would have someone to turn to: a relative, a friend, a community shelter. But what if your whole neighborhood had been devastated, or your whole town, perhaps even your whole city? Everyone who could have helped you would have been equally affected by the rising water, the drought, the hurricane. What would you do?
On average, 26 million people per year are forced to flee their homes because of natural calamities. Every second, one person is displaced because of climate change alone. By 2050, both the UN and independent agencies estimate that the number of people displaced every year could rise to 1 billion people.
This issue will not simply disappear.
What’s Causing the Crisis?
There’s been a steady increase in the number of climate- and weather-related disasters since the 1970s. Currently, the main causes of displacement are:
And natural disasters are not only not subsiding, they’ll become more frequent and more severe in the future, displacing more people from their homes and tearing apart their social and economic structures.
Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)
People forced to flee by climate change are variously described as:
climate refugees, environmental refugees, forced environmental migrants, environmentally motivated migrants, climate change refugees, environmentally displaced persons, disaster refugees, the environmental displaced, and environmental migrants
The UN-related International Organization for Migration (IOM) agency formally defines environmental migrants as “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad.”
It’s important to note that the UN explicitly defines climate refugees as:
Crucially, the International Refugee Law does not view environmental migrants as refugees. Thus, they’re not given the protections afforded to political refugees under international law.
Organizations such as the Living Space for Environmental Refugees Foundation are working to increase political exposure of the environmental migration problem. Similarly, the Environmental Justice Foundation is working to give climate refugees a voice by raising awareness of the issue and collaborating with governments and policy makers.
What Solutions are Available?
While the problem seems gargantuan, there is still hope if we collectively address the causes of environmental migration. IOM has outlined objectives to mitigate the problem:
You, too, can help environmental refugees by becoming more informed about the problem, as well as by making certain that your elected representatives are actively engaged in climate change policy and environmental migration policy.