Report Predicts 140 Million Climate Refugees By 2050 Unless “Concrete” Action Is Taken

A group of people in Kutubdia, Bangladesh carry a boatload by hand after losing their port due to rising sea levels in 2009. Salvacampillo/Shutterstock

A worst-case scenario projection by the World Bank suggests that over the next three decades, climate change could force more than 143 million people to seek refuge in three of the world’s most densely populated areas, setting the grounds for a “human crisis”.

At this stage, the number is just a projection based on models considering demographic, socioeconomic, and climate impact data. However, it could become a reality without “concrete climate and development action”, according to the 2018 report Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. Specifically, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia may see tens of millions of people forced to move as many regions become uninhabitable due to growing climate-related issues like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise, and storm surges. Together, these three regions represent more than half of the developing world’s population.

In sub-Saharan Africa, projections suggest that 86 million people will be forced to move by 2050 because of crop failure unless national governments move towards a more diversified and climate-resilient economy. South Asia could see as many as 40 million climate refugees, while Latin America could see a total of 17 million. Altogether, these “climate migrants” would add to the millions of people already moving within the boundaries of their countries for social, political, economic, or other reasons.

“We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality,” Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement. “Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training, and jobs will pay long-term dividends. It’s also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Internal climate migration is a reality, but experts note that it doesn’t have to become a crisis; concerted action – like cutting greenhouse gas emissions and robust country-level development planning – could cut the number of people by 80 percent, to just over 28 million people in all.

“Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” said the report’s team lead Kanta Kumari Rigaud. “We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources. But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now.”

Key recommendations include transforming development planning to consider climate migration, investing in data and analysis to improve understanding of internal climate migration trends and trajectories, and reducing climate pressure on people and livelihoods overall. 

World Bank, Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration

[H/T: MIT Technology Review

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