climate refugee battling rising sea levels

Climate Emergency: Refugees at Risk

The climate crisis is displacing more people, yet they fail to meet the criteria of a refugee

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have taken centre stage in world politics for the time being, but that does not deny the fact that the climate emergency is still a threat to the planet and humanity’s existence – and is continuing to plunge people into refugee status.

Activists such as Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Jessica Ahmed, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez are just a few individuals from the younger generation campaigning for the climate. 

climate refugee battling rising sea levels
People are becoming more vulnerable to displacement in their own countries due to climate change impacting sea levels and food availability. [Image: David Gray/Reuters/The Guardian.]

Decarbonising the UK economy and society to reduce the impact of global warming is already underway to avoid the destruction of people’s communities, homes, and livelihoods.  

Of the 65 million displaced people across the globe, approximately 20 million are displaced due to the climate emergency affecting their homes. Oxfam International’s report  ‘Forced from home: climate-fuelled displacement’ published late 2019 suggests those from lower socio-economic areas of the world are most likely to be affected due to lack of infrastructure and housing support in their country of origin. 

The report states: “today people are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by cyclones, floods and wildfires as they are by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and three times more likely than by conflict”. 

According to the report, climate disasters are the number one reason for internal displacement of people

According to the report, climate disasters are the number one reason for internal displacement of people. Small island developing states such as Cuba, Dominica and Tuvalu are at high risk due to extreme weather events and up to 150 more likely to be displaced due to this than European countries. 

Conflict also has an impact on the likelihood of climate refugees rising. In Somalia, 578,000 Somalians were displaced due to conflict and extreme drought, the equivalent of nearly the entire population of German cities Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, according to Oxfam’s findings. 

Although more and more people start to lose their homes and livelihoods due to climate change, such individuals are not recognised as a ‘refugee’. [Image: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images/npr].

Women are also at greater risk due to varying cultural and social norms, such as less autonomy to leave the house alone, less likely to be able to access credit, insurance and government support after a climate disaster. 

Conflict also has an impact on the likelihood of climate refugees rising

The Oxfam report has called for “more urgent and ambitious emissions reductions” if there is to be any change going forward. They state that establishing a ‘Loss and Damage’ finance facility would help communities rebuild their lives in the wake of such devastation. 

Rising seas, heatwaves, floods and storms are of high concern to the United Nations. Plans to fund up to $100billion for countries who need economic support are underway but for permanent, long-term solutions, there needs to be climate-friendly actions from corporate giants and governments. 

Climate refugees are not recognised under the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines refugees as fleeing war, famine or personal persecution

Climate refugees are not recognised under the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines refugees as fleeing war, famine or personal persecution. Yet, climate refugees are unable to live in their previous homes, due to crop yields being destroyed and the ever-growing crisis of global warming.

The scientific evidence for the climate emergency proves this is a crisis that will not end unless the world is prepared to radically change and adapt. Without change, millions more are vulnerable to losing their families, communities, and their homes year after year.