Climate Change and the Migratory Phenomenon

Confronting Climate Change and Managing Migration

The UN High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that around 21.5 million people were forcibly displaced each year, due to fast onset weather-related events between 2008 and 2016, and thousands due to slow-onset climate hazards. As the upward trend of intense climatic events continues to impact communities worldwide, the global community braces for increasing migratory numbers. While there have been numerous predictions made on how many people will become displaced over the next century, they are all marred by uncertainty. We know the impacts of climate change will be felt more intensely and more frequently in the years to come, but by how much is still uncertain as the global community still has time to act and better manage environmental risks, build resilience, and cut emissions.

Climate Change

A World Bank in 2019, found that if all disasters could be prevented across one year, the number of people living in extreme poverty (living on less that $1.90 a day) would fall by 26 million. While it would be impossible to fully mitigate disaster risk altogether, this study demonstrates how closely tied disasters and poverty are, and as projected temperature increases highlighted in the IPCC report show, one in hundred-year climate events will likely occur every decade, if we continue on this path. Such events could render current risk management strategies obsolete, and climate events will further exasperate already existing inequalities in society as some communities are left exposed to intersecting crises. Climate events do not happen in a vacuum, but interact with existing vulnerabilities and social structures, so disaster risk mitigation policies and infrastructure need to fit alongside wider societal changes that promote justice for alienated communities.

Climate Change and Migration

With so many other environmental, social, economic, and political factors at work, establishing a clear causative relationship between climate change and migration has been difficult. However, its extremely clear that the allocation of climate burdens across individuals, nations and generations has not been fair nor equal, and we are seeing the very consequences of this today. The majority world is facing the brunt of slow-onset and fast-onset climatic events, including droughts, erratic rainfall, flooding, and rising sea-levels while contributing the least to global emissions. It has become critical that further investment and attention are needed to support locally-driven initiatives and disaster risk reduction measures to promote local adaption and capacity building, while also making provisions for people who are forced to migrate due to environmental conditions.

Climate refugees currently lack access to protection mechanisms as the 1951 Refugee Convention solely makes provisions for those fleeing conflict and/or persecution, and there has been little movement to create legislation to support people having to flee due to climate change. Climate justice can only be achieved if the climate burdens are distributed across countries, diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas are engaged with and prioritised, and ‘climate refugee’ becomes a legally recognised term that induces protections for those having to uproot their lives due to climate disturbances.

Countries are already facing some of the worst humanitarian crises in world, and environmental conditions are contributing to the nexus of crises impacting communities in these regions. Yemen is on the brink of collapse. The country was already at risk of frequent flooding, drought and heavy sandstorms, but deforestation and desertification have further impacted the environment and the Yemeni people.

The Unfolding Crisis in Yemen

It has been nearly 8 years since a serious escalation in the conflict in Yemen, and the situation in-country is becoming increasingly desperate. Almost 400,000 people are estimated to have died and more than 21 million people need humanitarian aid. . MOAS, through the #MissionOfHope, continues to provide logistical support, delivering specialised therapeutic food from our partner Edesia, to our in-country counterpart Adra Yemen. However, while NGOs continue to fill gaps in provision, the levels of hunger are endemic and growing.

In Yemen, climate change is not a distant prospect. Among recent examples are two major cyclones in 2015, a further two cyclones in 2018 and destructive floods in 2020. These events are becoming increasingly frequent and temperatures in Yemen have increased by 1.8 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years and will likely increase to 2.3 degrees by 2060. With Yemen’s population set to reach 50 million by 2050, already stretched resources will force people to migrate to urban areas, but without any regional planning, such movement will stretch needs even further beyond capacity. This demands levels of urgent attention and planning across the humanitarian sector and in-country. Without collaborative action, the crisis will become management, and thousands will likely be forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

Final Thoughts

The events taking place in Yemen are not happening in a vacuum, and much of the crises we are seeing unfold in the region and happening in various countries at different rates, scales and frequencies. But what is common across all contexts is that there is a fundamental lack of coordination across sectors to properly implement sustainable disaster risk mitigation strategies. There is also a lack of sustained funding to ensure such plans can be implemented over the long-term. We have also seen governments use increasingly security-focused policies to deter migrants from their borders, which will only leave more and more people vulnerable to climatic events in the future.

As we come to see more frequent ‘once in a century’ events impact countries year on year, we must find a way to incorporate locally driven ideas into the international arena, and prioritise the perspectives of those facing the impacts of climate change on their doorstep as it is the individuals most at risk when facing disasters, who are the least able to relocate.

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