Again, with the hottest year in the record books under our belt and a string of very hot years this century trailing right behind it, what impacts have we seen on our planet and on society?
2015 saw a large jump in the number of refugees, and climate activists have been predicting that unfriendly climate changes would produce up to 200 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050. There are now 60 million refugees on the planet. The question is how many of them are fleeing the climate?
The 60 million figure actually refers to ‘forcibly displaced persons’ and the UNHCR specifically refers to them as displaced by war.
Are there any climate refugees at all? Yes, of course. People have left homes due to desertification and drought, flooding, storms, soil depletion, etc. for thousands of years and they are doing so today. As there are more people on the planet, it would seem logical to expect that more are affected by deteriorating climate, soils, etc.
But the conversation regarding climate refugees is a bit different from discussions of climate change refugees, with the latter term referring to changes in the climate caused by human contributions, primarily of CO2, since about 1945. The biggest difference is that all the conversation about ‘climate change’ refugees is conducted in the future tense. People expect that the changes to the climate will create refugees in the future. But it hasn’t done so yet, and ‘yet’ includes 2015.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center writes, “Take natural hazards. Our research shows that natural hazards – whether climate-related or geophysical – don’t in themselves cause displacement. It is only when hazards hit highly populated areas and vulnerable communities that they become disasters and cause people to flee.
Additionally, although the relationship between climate change and displacement is not straightforward, we know we can expect climate change to magnify the risk of displacement in the future.
Human-made factors further contribute to the increasing trend in disaster displacement. These include rapid economic development, urban growth and population growth in hazard prone areas.”
“Evidence from past and recent events shows that weather-related disasters have resulted in significant levels of population displacement worldwide. Considering the impact of sudden-onset, weather-related hazards alone, a global average of at least 22.5 million people have been displaced each year from 2008 to 2014, and disaster displacement since the 1970s is on the rise (IDMC 2015). Since 2008, close to 175 million people who live in developing countries have been displaced by disasters, accounting for 95 per cent of the global total (IDMC 2015).” This quote is from ‘Human Mobility In The Face Of Climate Change,” a report developed in advance of the COP21 held in Paris last December. The report talks about future increases in the numbers due to climate change, but has no numbers at all for the present or the past.
An hour’s search on the Internet–what is that worth? How much information can it be expected to unearth? Whatever your answer is, that’s how much time I spent looking for any kind of data on current human displacement due to climate change.
I found none. I found lots of information about what is expected from the future. Nothing about today, nothing about yesterday.
Given that none of the expected climate impacts–drought, sea level rise, flooding or storms–have worsened in recent decades, I suppose it isn’t surprising that climate change has not moved people out of their homes. Disasters have temporarily displaced more people than in the past, but that is clearly because population increase has placed more people in harm’s way.