Some people deny it and say it is a ‘Chinese hoax’, others believe it is one of the main global issues and the single greatest threat facing the planet. I would say that the first approach is an ill-informed opinion, while the second seems to be a fact-based judgment about climate change. Indeed, a recent Leonardo DiCaprio Documentary Movie ‘Before the Flood’ emphasises that there is an overwhelming agreement among climate scientists that global warming is happening and that it is caused by humans. Although for the previously informed viewer the documentary doesn’t showcase any ‘brand new information’, it does still create a sense of inevitable danger for our planet and a sense of urgency to act.
Ironically enough, although ‘Before the Flood’ debuted in the week leading up to the US election and made a strong case for environmentally friendly politics, the U.S. chose Donald Trump (a denier of climate change) to be the president-elect. What seems even more ironic though is that Trump, with all his anti-immigrant and security rhetoric, doesn’t seem to realize that the same climate change that he is uneager to fight is another important source and reason for migration and conflict.
According to the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation, each year around 27 million people are displaced due to consequences of climate change, such as droughts, sea level change, and extreme weather events. The 2016 World Disasters report indicates that at least 19.2 million disaster displacements occured in 2015, which is twice the number of new displacements caused by conflict and generalized violence. In 2015 The Climate Central estimated that the 4°C of climate warming, and the respective rise in sea levels, might result in the displacement of up to 760 million people, while if the world manages to limit warming to 2°C, we might face a 130 million people margin. Another recent report published by The Economics of Land Degradation Initiative argues that ‘changes in climatic conditions at local and global levels drive land degradation’. According to the authors, about half of the agricultural land in the world is moderately or severely degraded, and one third of the world appears vulnerable to further land degradation. Such lack of resources, which is especially hitting poorer developing nations, is predicted to result in 50 million refugees within the next 10 years.
Such predictions are manifold, and although the numbers may vary, what is clear is that the outlook is disturbing: there is a growing climate change crisis, which has its economic, food production, health, safety, and security consequences.
Echoing these gloomy predictions, French environment minister Ségolène Royal highlighted the issue at the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, also making a link between climate change and global conflicts. Indeed, many see climate change-induced drought as one of the factors behind the Syrian uprising that began in 2011. Although the idea of a climate change-based source of the Syrian conflict has been debated for years, it seems quite a justifiable notion that climate change, and more specifically its consequences, might be one of the many factors affecting conflicts and migration.
So should we expect new waves of migrants, who flee climate change-affected regions?!
An insightful work by The Climate and Migration Coalition builds a good case for challenging this media-portrayed view of environmental migrants being ‘refugee-like’, namely fleeing the disaster en masse, chaotically and internationally. Although such a picture, seemingly inspired by the current migrant crisis, might be unlikely, the evidence for a climate change crisis is still evident.
We might not know exactly when, how many and how people will migrate… but we do know that climate change is real and happening, it is a result of human activity, and it is already hugely impacting the planet’s nature, wildlife, and (notably to the egocentric human nature) our own lives… It is about time to ACT upon it…let alone the inevitable need to stop denying it.