Climate Change And The Refugee Crisis: The Likelihood Of Increased Climate Migration


In 2016, military leaders specifically addressed the impact of climate change on conflict and migration, “Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century […] We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people,” stated by Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change. Climate change has become one of today’s most pressing issues and severe impacts like the changing sea levels continue to emerge. Currently, the connection between global warming and the increasing rate of global human displacement is being established. Thus, the international community must approach climate migration with immediate concern.

Reporting for The Conversation, Jane Mcadam estimates that around 26 million people a year are displaced by a disaster-related threat and as climate change continues, she says, more vulnerable people are forced to move either within their country or across international borders for stability and safety. A new wave of climate refugees that have been displaced because of climate-related issues like droughts and rising seas begets security challenges for nations; it is vital for countries to address the imminent possibility of climate change refugees. Furthermore, there is a limited amount of global conventions, protection frameworks and initiatives that target this contemporary migration issue. In fact the 1951 Refugee Convention that acts as the global guideline for refugee security does not yet recognize a climate change refugee; it defines a refugee as “owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” However, the United Nations has implemented many initiatives to protect those that are displaced and powerless to the consequences of climate change. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guides the Global Protection Cluster that aims to assist those that cannot safely return home due to climate-related disasters as well as developing the planned relocation guide for moving people away from climate change harm.

Nations may be detached from the concept of climate migration because their attention is on migrants fleeing violent, war-torn environments. Therefore, a lack of international action may be due in part to resources and initiatives being directed towards this more common form of migration. Consequently, nations are unlikely to be prepared for this major consequence of climate change and it is essential for nations to adapt domestic frameworks and prepare strategies that accommodate the lesser recognized, climate migrant. For example, Australia has been warned by a US defense expert that they could be on the front-line for climate refugees due to the vulnerability of the Asia-Pacific region: Sherri Goodman, a former US deputy undersecretary of defence told the Guardian “You may be on the frontlines here in Australia for climate refugees […] the first wave will be those who have to flee the low-lying Pacific islands, because many of them will be uninhabitable, even in our lifetimes.” This unfortunate possibility for the Pacific Islands was acknowledged by The Maldives in 2008, when then president Mohamed Nasheed spoke about the prospect of buying unoccupied land in Sri Lanka, India or Australia as a defence policy against the rising sea levels that endangers the safety of 300,000 islanders and turns them into climate refugees.

Another consequence of climate change that would be a major force behind migrating is weather-related disasters that endanger the livelihood of many especially those in the least developed countries. Insecurity resulting from climate change in developing countries is a driving force for climate migration; in fact, a report submitted by the Global Humanitarian Forum Geneva found that “developing countries bear over nine-tenths of the climate change burden; 98 percent of the seriously affected and 99 percent of all deaths from weather-related disasters, along with over 90 percent of the total economic losses.” Clearly, as climate change continues to wreak havoc on developing countries, the likelihood of climate migration is increased and developed countries are faced with the challenges that follow. The crucial challenge that shadows the discussion of climate migration, “is where would these migrants go?” Hence, transnational planning must be initiated by the international community to create proposals that account for such a considerable challenge.

Many countries are struggling with the rise of violence and conflict thus, many people are fleeing the nation’s borders. This issue has also been linked with the effects of climate change, Ker Than reporting for the national geographic, cites research that links a shift in temperature and a rise in extreme heat to possibly fuelling acts of aggression and hostility. In fact, conflict driven by climate change is evident in The War in Darfur, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that there was a link between climate and conflict and the subsequent instability it caused on neighbouring nations. While climate change is not the sole cause of conflict, it is certainly a substantial, contributing element. Sherri Goodman shares this view when she says that “climate is a threat multiplier because it aggravates others tensions and conflicts that already exist.” Overall, climate change is a foremost issue in today’s society and its role in conflict and migration is difficult to conquer. The attention given by the international community to climate refugees is inadequate. The facts are alarming: “In the last six years, some 140 million people have been forced to move because of climate-related disasters”, the Guardian reports.

Fortunately, as of late, there has been an increase in climate migration research. However, this research is useless if governments fail to domestically and internationally utilize it and create effective frameworks that target the climate and refugee crisis. Increased climate migration would cause extreme instability and disorder within a nation’s security measures. Thus, the creation of a designated climate council is vital to ensure that nations have developed a strategy. This concept of a climate security based council is expressed in a report by The Centre for Policy Development, which expresses the need for Australia to assign a “climate security advisory council, connecting the defence, environment and foreign affairs department to develop a national climate security strategy.” Overall, the concept of increased climate migration is difficult to approach especially since resources are directed towards other issues. However, a lack of concern from the international community will only exacerbate the disarray nations will face in the future when climate migration becomes widespread.