floodThe world’s poorest countries stand to lose the most from climate change. Poorer countries tend to be on tropical latitudes, whereas wealthier countries (which, conversely, have often contributed the most in terms of historical CO2 emissions) are usually situated in more temperate zones. Richer countries also have greater resources to spend on mitigating the impact of climate change. So, the poorest countries will be hardest hit.

As temperatures increase and extreme weather patterns grow more common, could large numbers of people start seeking sanctuary in developed countries? The recent influx of refugees from Syria and other countries has caused political chaos in Europe. Could climate change provoke an even bigger refugee crisis?

The UN warns that people displaced across borders by environmental disasters exist in a legal limbo, not protected by current international agreements on refugees. Nevertheless, some analysts predict millions of people will flee their countries because of the effects of climate change (though the numbers fluctuate wildly, depending on how one defines a “climate refugee”, from tens of thousands to one billion).

We had a comment sent in from Yannick, who believes Syrians are quite possibly the first ‘climate refugees’. Certainly, some have argued that a severe drought in Syria was responsible for rural farmers moving en masse into cities, leading ultimately to protests and, ultimately, civil war. Others argue that this is a misguided attempt to ‘securatise’ the climate change debate.

To get a response, we spoke to Alex Randall, Climate Change & Migration Project Manager at Climate Outreach. What would he say to Yannick?

alex-randallThe short answer is no. People fleeing Syria are fleeing conflict. However, there is a debate about the role climate change may have played in contributing to the start of that conflict. There is some evidence suggesting that a very powerful drought drove many rural Syrians into cities. Extra numbers in urban gave more energy to protests and rebellion against the regime. With these extra numbers in Syria’s cities the start of an uprising against the regime became possible. So climate change may have played a role in creating the circumstances for the uprising. The uprising was (as we know) unsuccessful. However the regime did not completely quash the uprising either. And this unstable situation lead to a wider conflict.

For another perspective, we also put Yannick’s comment to Ingrid Boas, Assistant Professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Her research includes a focus on environmentally-induced migration and climate security.

boasI would to say to Yannick that I disagree with that statement. I would say that Syrian refugees are political and war refugees. Also, I would say that many scientific studies have been conducted on climate displacement, and when environmental change plays an important factor people don’t necessarily go very far. For instance, I went to Bangladesh recently where people were affected by a cyclone, and people were trying to rebuild their houses even though water kept on pouring in because dams were destroyed. People didn’t really have the means to actually move away. Some did, and then they went to a nearby city.

[Environmental disasters are] not so strong a driver that people go all the way to Europe. If they do, then usually there is another driver that is really making you want to go far away from your home country, for instance that you’re scared of your government or your life is really in danger and you’re not receiving any help. So, for that reason, I would say Syrians are war refugees. Even though, indeed, studies have shown that drought played a role in internal migration; but even then migration is multi-causal, and I’ve also read that what made many people move to the city was that the regime had stopped various subsidies which got problematic for farming activities. So, it’s often an inter-linkage between different factors.

We also had a comment from Björn, who thinks Europe needs to take climate refugees seriously. But how do we determine what a ‘climate refugee’ actually is? We asked Alex Randall what he would say:

alex-randallIt’s almost impossible to pick out a group of people who have been displaced by climate change. But this doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t forcing people to move. This is a theoretical and legal conundrum! Climate change will alter patterns of disasters like typhoons and droughts and make some of them worse. In the future this could mean more people are forced to move. But it’s hard to say that any given disaster was caused just by climate change. So we can say that climate has played a role in changing patterns of displacement. But not that individual people are climate refugees.

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Andrew Holland, the American Security Project’s Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate.

hollandFirst of all, we should have a definition for climate refugees, and it needs to be discussed and debated throughout the international system. At this point, we don’t know what is a climate refugee. Is it when there’s a drought? Or is it only when, for instance, your home disappears entirely? When the seas rise and the place you were living is suddenly underwater? Or is it something else?

People migrate for different reasons, and it’s often very difficult to tease out whether they’re migrating because they cannot live in their home for climate reasons, or for reasons of conflict, or are they migrating for economic opportunity? It’s often several of those put together. So to figure out who’s a climate refugee, who’s an economic migrant, and who’s a refugee from war is difficult. We need to think about that…

Will climate change lead to an even bigger refugee crisis? Was climate change and drought an important factor in the outbreak of civil war in Syria? And how do we tell what a ‘climate refugee’ actually is? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Asian Development Bank


57 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Matej Zaggy Zagorc

    On a related note, UAE want to drag an iceberg from Antarctica to have drinking water. So they’re doing their part for the world

    • Bódis Kata

      On a related note: arctic ice contains ancient bacteria that have been frozen and dormant for millenia.
      I think they will enjoy the sunny beaches.

  2. Akis Muto

    shouldnt that also affect the Netherlands and Belgium?
    i mean , if climate change causes problems in the middle east(i am not denying it) , then the Netherlands and all these low lands will have issues with that as well themselves

    • Sasha Naronin

      NEtherlands are a developed country – they will have better resources for dealing with this.

  3. Marcos Markko

    And Spain might not be underwater by then, cause most of the country is way above the sea level, but it will certainly become a desert.

  4. Dimitris Orfanoudis

    First was the war then political or religious implications now is the climate changes This is rediculous Stop writing this kind of stupidities ….

  5. Aliki Petridi

    climate change and bigger refugee crisis ????,,,,is there any link between ??? and who told it ? about climate change ???? the world is going crasy —-

  6. Aris Olibiakaras Gia Panta

    oH yeah for this reason there is only one solution close the borders and send the army to guard them! Take Hungary as en example! We need to oppose the fucking leftist mentality promoted by the universities in the whole world! We need to select people in order to separate the good from the bad ones! We need to monitor people from the Middle East because they have radical Islamic ideas! CHRISTIAN CONSERVATORISM IS THE BEST SOLUTION! DEPORT ALL OF THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS! SEND THEM BACK TO THEIR COUNTRIES NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE CHILDREN,WOMEN,MEN! THEY ARE ILLEGAL FIRST OF ALL! SIMPLE! APPLY THE LAW!

    • Adam Parkes

      it’s hot, it’s dry, it hoards its money, they don’t like refugees, now, most of the refugees do in fact go to relatively-welcoming countries like Turkey and Jordan, the amount that carries on to Europe is dwarfed by those that stay in the middle east

    • Rusu Eusebiu

      So you must be one of those scared fools thinking 2% of the total european population that are muslim will change the whole western culture… Poor you…

    • Spyros Kouvoussis

      you have never seen a map of Middle East in your life, have you? Europe is much closer to Syria than Saudi Arabia is.

    • Dominika Fuworld

      And like them sharia law .Not like in atheist Europe .

  7. Johnny Wilson

    If it fits the scam: Yes. The NGO’s will try anything to lure africans to Europe. Its all about the money.

  8. John Andreu

    It’s amazing how many idiots there are in the world who deny science.
    “Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can’t help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.”
    ―Robert A. Heinlein

  9. Joerg Sp

    LoL debating Europe asking basic common sense questions that are not even remotely debatable and should be understood as given. Well done!

    • Wojciech Małecki

      Then take them all in into your own house and keep them.

  10. Tom Mogensen

    Any excuse to come to Europe to have money and house and welfare returned to all the friends and family back home.

  11. Eloy Alonso

    Climate change is a fraud…but all excuses are good for our traitors to support the European invasion

  12. Nicolas Hernandez

    De la servitude moderne

    « Mon optimisme est basé sur la certitude que cette civilisation va s’effondrer.
    Mon pessimisme sur tout ce qu’elle fait pour nous entraîner dans sa chute. »

    [Info] Il n’y a pas que Macron dans l’actu, il y a aussi une conférence sur le climat… Qui discute CO2, mais oublie un gaz à effet de serre tout aussi crucial : le méthane.

    Arctique, la conquête glaciale ARTE – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI1VP8eUS-M

    Ces dernières années, l’Arctique — et son pétrole — est devenu un enjeu majeur. La fonte des glaces ouvre de nouvelles voies navigables. De quoi attiser l’appétit des multinationales, des Etats frontaliers et des grandes puissances, qui développent des projets de forage sans trop se soucier des dégâts sur l’environnement.

    D’un terminal pétrolier à un champ de forage offshore, d’un village groenlandais à un laboratoire ou un bateau, ce documentaire aussi instructif qu’alarmiste inventorie, en situation, les dangers qui menacent cette zone, et brosse les grandes lignes d’un scénario catastrophe. Avec pour personnages principaux des compagnies pétrolières vampiriques, des gouvernements dépassés ou complices qui se battent pour des questions de tracés de frontières. Quant à l’intrigue, elle s’oriente vers des rebondissements pas folichons, impliquant des projets industriels susceptibles d’entraîner des marées noires incontrôlables.

    Avec une belle unanimité, les observateurs interrogés (géologues, analystes, pêcheurs, politiques) tirent la sonnette d’alarme. Et, in fine, préviennent : les calculs et les projections existants ne permettraient plus d’évaluer correctement les risques futurs, les dangers causés par une surexploitation sans contrôle. Seule certitude ? « On ne sait pas où l’on va. »

    Environnement Arctique, la conquête glaciale

  13. Fredrik Dunge

    Very likely yes. Let’s face it the magnitude of the refugee crisis that climate change will unleash on us will be to much even for western society to handle, we need to be proactive here, solving problems and preventing starvation before it start dislocating people. Otherwise I fear for the future of human civilisations. The developing world will be wiped out and the developed world will collapse under the weight of the refugees from the developing world.

    • Fredrik Dunge

      Michael Michał Gajos Eh no the fall of Rome happened under very different circumstances.
      And Europe will only fall if we are stupid about this, if we are selfish.

    • Pieter Vancoppenolle

      Europe will fall it we let the refugees in because of our moral high ground, while we spend time to save the planet from so called man made global warming or as it is now called climate change.

    • Fredrik Dunge

      Pieter Vancoppenolle It’s still called global warming, either term is equally valid. IT was the deniers who started using climate change so they could claim that it’s not man made. Which is obviously BS, it is very much man made.

  14. Chris van Dijck

    no worries, we have Pechtold (and Klaver) , he welcomes all! instead of solving the problem we live in a world where 90% of all the money belongs to 1% of the people living in it.. sick world!

  15. Irmeli Mattsson

    The population growth is the most important reason for the refugee cisis. The population in Syria has grown 350% in 50 yesrs. Almost as big inrease in Afghanistan. It contributes strongly to climate change also. Why is this nowadays a taboo to discuss about?

  16. Stefania Portici

    SI. India ( si parla di 300 milioni di indiani ) , Bangladesh ( si parla di 10 milioni di persone ) , Africa del Nord Sahel ( incalcolabili ) . Questi i futuri migranti per cambiamento climatico . Anche la Siria dal 2006 ha avuto il problema siccità . Qualcuno alla casa bianca ha negato che il problema climatico sia un vero problema…..

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