Climate Change is No Longer Only an Ecological Crisis, it’s also a Humanitarian one
By admin March 30, 2015

With Famine Crisis Thousands of Somalis Flee to Ethiopia Refugee Camps

The reasons underlying forced displacement are altering in the 21st century; gradually reshaping our understanding of the motivation behind those forced to move and quickly recalibrating the consequences for what will soon come. Generally when we think of “refugees” we think of persons fleeing their homelands due to warfare, violence, and persecution. And these push factors affecting displaced persons are true in 2015 as it was a century ago. Yet there is another emerging concern surrounding involuntary migration, this time caused by modern day climate change rather than civil or interstate conflict.

As rising sea levels, droughts, desertification and disaster become more catastrophic, larger amounts of people are being forced to flee from their uninhabitable countries of origin. According to a report issued by the UN Secretary-General in 2009, the number of those relocating due to climate change reached 20 million, and is likely to grow between 50 and 350 million by 2050. This should raise concern among the international community, because climate change and its consequences will not only affect developing countries, but have significant implications for all nations.


Norman Myers, a British environmentalist noted for his work on this subject, described climate refugees as: “persons who no longer gain a secure livelihood in their traditional homelands because of environmental factors of unusual scope, notably drought, desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, water shortages and climate change, also natural disasters as cyclones, storm surges and floods.”

Still, a fundamental problem underneath the global inadvertence to this phenomenon is the lack of understanding by national governments, international agreements, and the body of international law itself to determine who encompasses a climate refugee and who is responsible as a result.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday addressed US Ambassadors at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference about the threat to human and national security climate change will pose, and its increasing role as a threat multiplier on the international agenda. “We’re spending billions upon billions — $110 billion last year on the damages that occurred because of the increased level of major weather events around the world; droughts that are 500-year droughts, not 100-year droughts; places that have less and less water; food that is less produced where it used to be.” Kerry went on to warn: “There’ll be climate refugees that all of you will be coping with at some point, if not now – in the not too distant future.”

Kerry is not the first to sound off alarms about this growing concern. In 2009, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres predicted that climate change will become the biggest catalyst of ‘population displacement’ within nations and across borders for upcoming decades, furthermore recognizing it as a significant threat to global peace and security. He drew on the increasing association between climate change and 21st century conflicts where the adverse effects may be seen in the competition for natural resources, as growing numbers of people compete for a dwindling amount of resources.

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, “High population growth, resource scarcity, unmanaged migration, poverty and poor governance are just some of the pathways through which climate change can breach tipping points or fuel existing conflicts.”


Despite legal protection for refugees under international law owing to persecution and war, it is unclear whether existing international frameworks protect people displaced by extreme weather events. Climate change is still not officially recognized as “legitimate causes of displacement” under the International Refugee Convention. And the present-day protection covering climate refugees is inadequate to sustain the millions more soon to be displaced. It is therefore time we build a new international framework reflecting the challenges of the 21st century. As the growing threat of climate change begins to affect more and more lives, it is essential the international community comes together to find a new category for our current day understanding of “refugees.” At this rate, the implications of environmental degradation will go beyond ecological crisis, and develop into a full-scale humanitarian one if ignored any longer.

For more information:

Climate change could become the biggest driver of displacement: UNHCR chief

Environmental Justice Foundation

UN: New Dynamics of Displacement

Environmental Exodus: An Emerging Crisis in the Global Arena

UN News Centre: Should international refugee law accommodate climate change?

Kerry Warns US Ambassadors They Will Be Dealing With ‘Climate Refugees’ In Not-Too-Distant Future

Thanks for sharing !

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