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    Climate Induced Displacement

    By Sammy Witt, UN Youth Rep

    Since last month, I have been attending the NGO Comittee on Migration meetings. This relatively new and very active group has several subcommittees. I’m a member of the Committee on Climate Induced Displacement. Working with, and talking to, this group has inspired me to write this text.

    Thirty four people recently died due to Hurricane Maria sweeping over Puerto Rico.1 Islands are sinking, meaning many people will become stateless.2 Natural disasters aren’t just killing people, they also make them relocate. When will we finally realize, that there’s a direct connection between climate change and displacement of people?

    Norman Myers, an activist and expert on biodiversity, estimates that about 150 million people will be displaced because of climate change by 2050.3 These are considered conservative figures. Christian Aid, a British charity, places these figures higher; at least a billion.4 There is an annual average of 22.5 million people being displaced by weather and climate-related sudden-onset extreme hazards.5 Others have had to move because of the effects of sea level rise, desertification or environmental degradation. It is important to note that it is not just happening to Pacific-islanders or Sub-saharan Africans, it’s happening to North Americans too. Tribal communities in the United States, particularly in coastal Alaska, are being forced to relocate due to accelerated rates of sea level rise and land erosion caused by the melting of permafrost, all of which is brought on by climate change.

    In 2015, the number of people displaced by sudden natural disaster was more than twice the number displaced by violence and/or conflict (19.2 million vs. 6.9 million).6 Weather-related hazards, in particular storms, are responsible for the majority of disaster displacement.

    The tragedies go beyond what any statistic could truly grasp. Forced relocation, bad governance mechanisms and too small budgets to address climate change and support adaptation strategies may cause loss of community and culture and economic decline, further tribal impoverishment and injustice.

    It is, by the way, also true that 20 of the 36 countries who contribute to climate change the most through high rates of carbon emissions are also among the least vulnerable to its negative impacts.7

    In conclusion, things look pretty bad. But... if all of us would finally acknowledge that climate change is real, we could still manage to turn things around. It is not too late!


    1 Luis Ferré-Sadurnjoct; 4, 2017; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/04/us/puerto-rico-death-toll-maria.html

    2 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change

    3 N. Myers; Environmental Refugees in a Globally Warmed World; 1993; 43-BioScience; 252, 257

    4 Christian Aid; Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis; May 2007

    5 http://www.sprep.org/climate-change/climate-induced-displacement-a-stark-reality-for-pacific-islands

    6 http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2017/

    7 Scientific Reports 6; Articlenumber:20281; 2016; http://go.nature.com/2mpa5cp

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