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29 January 2024

Climate Refugees: The invisible crisis


By Despoina Moscholiou Syrigou
Climate change is emerging as a critical reality that has the potential to reshape the global social landscape through climate refugees. People are being uprooted from their homes due to climate change, causing mass population movements.
The term “climate refugees” describes people who are displaced from their homes due to climate phenomena. This can include floods, droughts, storms, sea level rise and other disasters caused by human-induced climate impacts.

Since 2008, more than 376 million people have been displaced by climate disasters. That’s the equivalent of one person being displaced every second, or as if the entire population of Australia is forced to leave their homes every year. In 2022 alone, 36.2 million people were displaced by natural disasters caused by climate change, and while many found shelter within their own country, others were forced to flee overseas. With the projected number of people affected set to double by 2050 according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Since 1994, the international community has increasingly recognised the issue of international migration and its relationship with development. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes several migration-related goals and calls for regular reviews of progress towards their achievement using data distinguished, inter alia, by their migration status. However, the response to this challenge is limited, and the protection of those affected remains inadequate. The lack of a legal definition of persons forced to move for climate reasons is particularly worrying, as they can easily find themselves in legal limbo due to the lack of recognition of their situation and their need for humanitarian protection.

Although the majority of climate-displaced people remain within their national borders (i.e. internally displaced), some are forced to move abroad and become externally displaced. However, as most available data focus on internally displaced persons, it is difficult to develop a clear picture of the scale of cross-border migration for climate-related reasons. This lack of accurate data prevents the implementation of an international legal framework to address this issue.

Climate change will continue to have a massive impact on many populations, particularly those in coastal and low-lying areas. Events such as these should serve as a serious reminder that climate disasters are not simply confined to the Global South, and that the impacts of large-scale disasters traditionally seen in developing countries, including displacement, are becoming an increasingly global phenomenon.

The insecurity caused by climate change has already begun to affect hundreds of millions of people around the world, with the winds of climate change crossing no borders. Frequent natural disasters, such as devastating storms, floods and temperatures that are rarely accounted for, have forced people to flee their homes, in some cases permanently. The effects are often devastating, with the need for humanitarian assistance becoming increasingly urgent.

In early 2023, Storm Daniel in Libya caused the death of over 12,000 people, while 40,000 people were forced to flee their homes. In the summer of 2023, temperatures in the Mediterranean and the US reached historic highs, while flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy killed 14 people and forced 50,000 to flee their homes. Also in 2022, floods in Pakistan forced over 10 million people to flee their homes, while the Horn of Africa experienced its worst drought in 40 years, leading to widespread starvation and migration.

These events are just a few examples of the multiple natural disasters that have been recorded in different parts of the world. And although most of those displaced stay within the borders of their countries, the increasing intensity of climate change is making some areas uninhabitable for return. This leads to an ever-worsening reality where people are forced to seek refuge in other regions or countries, sometimes without legal protection or recognition of their status as climate refugees. The need for action is immediate as humanity faces the challenge of climate-induced displacement across borders and within their own countries.

In response to the growing challenge of climate-induced displacement, our consultancy firm is well-equipped to provide essential services. We specialize in conducting climate vulnerability assessments and developing adaptive strategies for private and public organizations. Recognizing the importance of accurate data, we actively collaborate with stakeholders to address the gaps in defining and protecting organizations affected by climate change. Our consultancy also offers guidance on sustainable development practices, fostering resilience in organizations and communities.

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