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Who Are Climate Refugees?

July 16, 2022 - Martina Igini

The climate crisis is rapidly intensifying environmental issues and extreme weather events around the world. Floods, wildfires, and droughts are forcing millions of people to flee their homes and countries every year. These people are known as ‘climate refugees’ and they are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.

Who are Climate Refugees?

Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country and cannot return home safely. They are often escaping war or conflict. Climate refugees, instead, are being displaced as a consequence of dangerous environmental changes, like droughts or rising sea levels just to name a few.

There are two types of climate refugees: those that are forced to leave their homes because of sudden changes (but often return), like hurricanes and floods, and those that leave because of long-term environmental changes that happen at a slower pace but have a much longer impact, such as droughts and sea level rise. 

Most climate refugees come from coastal areas in Asia and Africa, and Small Island States  – which are sinking at the highest rate in the world.

While refugees are protected by international laws – which, to some extent, allow them to build another life away from home so that they don’t have to return to their dangerous home countries – climate refugees receive much less legal recognition and protection. They receive little to no support to rebuild their lives. 

According to the UN, an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related events and 95% lived in developing countries. However, this number could be much higher in 2050, with scientists estimating that there could be up to 1.2 billion climate refugees by then, as the climate crisis intensifies!

In fact, as global temperatures rise, extreme weather events intensifies and droughts and famine become much more common and widespread. According to sea level rise projections, nearly one billion people will be exposed to much greater risks of flooding by mid-century, with some cities like Bangkok, Manila, Amsterdam and New Orleans at risk of disappearing as a consequence of sea level rise.

Richer countries contribute the most to the climate crisis, but it is the poorer ones that suffer the most. Indeed, countries in the Global South are already more vulnerable to climate change-triggered events such as floods or droughts. To make matters worse, they do not have the financial resources to cope with these issues and improve the infrastructure to mitigate their impact.

This is why many call rich countries to be held accountable for the damage they make to our planet. It is indeed the richest 10% that are responsible for 50% of all carbon emissions! Moreover, as the consequences of global warming are not going away any time soon and are actually predicted to worsen in the coming years – forcing a larger number of people to migrate elsewhere as their home countries become inhospitable, it is time that the international community and governments around the world do their part in recognising climate refugees and facilitating their integration within societies.

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