What is a Climate Refugee?
Global climate change poses a fundamental threat to our wildlife and ecosystems, but also to the security of people worldwide. Living conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous, due to extreme weather and natural disasters. Climate change is forcing at-risk populations out of their homes and land. This phenomenon caused by our damage to the climate has caused what we call climate refugees. Environmental damage is thus creating a domino effect of the disaster, which is causing the potential displacement of billions.
According to the UNHCR (UNHCR, 2021), on average 21.5 million people annually must flee their homes due to climate-related hazards. The forecast for the upcoming decades is tragic: by 2050, up to 1.2 billion people globally could be displaced due to climate-induced migration (Institute for Economics and Peace IEP, 2020).
Extreme weather conditions are not the only factor threatening local communities. In addition to being exposed to food and water shortages, climate refugees are massively affected by slow-onset hazards linked to rising sea levels, such as coastal erosion and droughts. The number of people trapped in areas especially vulnerable to the sea-level rise has grown from 160 million to 260 million over the last 30 years (Ida, 2021).
How Can We Address the Climate Refugees Crisis?
To successfully address the climate refugee challenge, it is critical that we give equal priority to actions promoting the long-term safety of our oceans.
Climate change does not have a uniform impact across the globe.
According to the latest IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022), local communities and ecosystems that are least able to cope with climate change are simultaneously the most vulnerable to its adverse effects. The livelihoods of many people suffering from climate-induced migration often depend on climate-sensitive factors like agriculture and fishing. Direction towards environmental justice requires climate action solutions targeted at relieving the unequal burden on indigenous groups. Additionally, vulnerable communities urgently need support in their efforts to scale up prevention and preparedness measures to minimize the devastating consequences of a climate crisis (UNHCR, 2022).
“We need to invest now in preparedness to mitigate future protection needs and prevent further climate-caused displacement. Waiting for disaster to strike is not an option.”
To successfully protect our shared home we need to recognize the deep interdependency between social wellbeing and healthy ecosystems. Supporting and scaling high-impact Nature-based Solutions that deliver co-benefits beyond carbon capture is necessary for preventing further refugee crises. Projects like mangrove restoration benefit people beyond serving as a coastal barrier for flood protection. For example, well-designed projects can help locals in achieving economic and food security through an increase in the fish and mud crab population available for harvesting. This way, in line with SDG 13.1 on climate action, NbS prove to be one of the most effective tools to actively increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities, helping to prevent future climate refugee crises.