The Stream

Could climate change force a billion people to move?

On Monday, April 19 at 19:30 GMT:
Ever-more frequent extreme weather events have in recent years devastated rural regions in developing countries, with millions of people having to start from scratch after losing everything in storms, droughts and floods.

But while these short, sharp crises have dealt a hammer blow to agrarian and pastoral communities, scientists also warn that ‘slow onset’ changes to the climate are forcing growing numbers of people to migrate in order to earn a living and support their families.

Global temperatures could increase more in the next 50 years than in the previous 6,000, according to a study by scientists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2020. It says extreme heat only common to regions such as the Sahara today could eventually blanket 19% of the world’s land by 2070, meaning “1 to 3 billion people are projected to be left outside the climate conditions that have served humanity well”.

And with the climate crisis already unfolding, millions of people across the world are already on the move. The UN’s International Organization for Migration estimates that environmental factors may factor into the migration of between 25 million and 1 billion people by 2050.

While researchers say harsh climatic conditions are rarely a lone factor behind individuals’ decision to migrate in search of a stable livelihood, environmental challenges are exacerbating existing hardships, especially in rural regions. People across Central America, Africa’s Sahel region and South Asia are among those moving to urban centres in search of work.

But it’s not uncommon that migrants arriving in cities subsequently face further deprivation, exploitation, and local intolerance. Many migrants facing difficulties in cities feel they have little option but to cross international borders, as a last resort. Yet increasingly tight border policies by developed countries in recent years already suggests that people migrating for their very survival may find little help from governments of the world’s richest nations.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll ask what is needed to humanely address the challenges of increased migration as global heating affects vulnerable communities.

This is the first of four episodes of The Stream in support of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Kayly Ober, @KaylyOber
Senior Advocate and Climate Displacement Program Manager, Refugees International

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, @hindououmar
President, Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)

Tasneem Siddiqui, @rmmru
Founding chair, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU)