Written by Anna Terporten and Antonia Landwehr
Posted on March 4th 2021
As the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, emphasizes, Climate Change per se is not directly a cause for migration but can rather be seen as a risk multiplier. Altering climatic conditions contribute to slow-onset events such as desertification, rain pattern shifts, sea-level rise or ocean acidification. All of this can lead to worse harvest or water scarcity, resulting in food conflicts and thus forcing people to leave their homes.
It is expected that the consequences of climate change will affect every country to some degree. However, developing countries, countries dealing with conflicts, or countries affected by high levels of poverty will likely be affected by climate change most strongly. Thus, it is expected that higher rates of migration will occur in these countries. Additionally, in many developing countries peoples’ livelihoods strongly depend on natural resources which also makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters. Wealthy countries, with a well-working government, on the other hand, are better equipped to protect themselves against catastrophes like floods, storms, or droughts, leading to lower rates of migration. Considering the high chances of an ever increasing high number of climate refugees, it is important to know how to handle such a crisis.
Current approaches reveal one major problem that applies to almost all consequences of Climate Change we experience – it is reactive instead of proactive. What does that mean? It means that there are too little preventive measures designed to anticipate migration flows. Instead of focusing how we could prevent the outbreak of crises that force people to leave their homes, we only take action when it’s too late. One of the biggest problems to occur in the near future is the fact that Climate Refugees are unlikely to return to their home countries, since their homes are not viable for the long term anymore. This distinguishes them from refugees fleeing from war and persecution, since they might return once the situation is less dangerous.
What indeed would be needed is a proper risk management plan by identifying in advance which regions are likely to develop conflicts soon. This would enable development agencies such as the UNHCR to generate strategies to prevent displacement from the start, which ultimately minimizes the costs for both refugees and governments. It should also be noted that nowadays, many Climate Refugees stay in their home country and simply move to another region within the nation’s territory. This is why it is important to enable states affected by Climate Change to handle the consequences of global warming on their own, thus ensuring that the Climate Refugees do not need to move beyond the borders.
Gaynor, T. (2020). Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it particularly impacts the displaced. Derived from: https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2020/11/5fbf73384/climate-change-defining-crisis-time-particularly-impacts-displaced.html