climate refugees
Due to sea level rise, many islands in the Ganges Delta region of West Bengal, India—including Mousuni—are facing fast erosion. Homes and lands are sinking at a steady rate and people are staring at a bleak future where the probability of them becoming climate refugees looms large. (Photo: Arka Dutta/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Underscoring the necessity of immediate and sweeping action to take on the climate emergency, a World Bank report revealed Monday that 216 million people across six global regions could be forced to move within their countries by midcentury.

Groundswell Part 2: Acting on Internal Climate Migration includes analyses for East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, building on a modeling approach from a 2018 report that covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest—those who are contributing the least to its causes,” said Juergen Voegele, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, in a statement.

The report’s highest projection is for Sub-Saharan Africa, which could see up to 86 million internal climate migrants by 2050, followed by East Asia and the Pacific (49 million), South Asia (40 million), North Africa (19 million), Latin America (17 million), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (five million). The 216 million figure is a worst-case scenario total for the six regions, Voegele explained in the report’s introduction.

“It’s important to note that this projection is not cast in stone,” he wrote. “If countries start now to reduce greenhouse gases, close development gaps, restore vital ecosystems, and help people adapt, internal climate migration could be reduced by up to 80%—to 44 million people by 2050.”

Voegele continued:

Without these actions, the report predicts that “hotspots” of climate migration will emerge as soon as within the next decade and intensify by 2050, as people leave places that can no longer sustain them and go to areas that offer opportunity. For instance, people are increasingly moving to cities, and we find that climate-related challenges such as water scarcity, declining crop productivity, and sea-level rise play a role in this migration. Even places which could become hotspots of climate out-migration because of increased impacts will likely still support large numbers of people. Meanwhile, receiving areas are often ill-prepared to receive additional internal climate migrants and provide them with basic services or use their skills.

“Development that is green, resilient, and inclusive can slow the pace of distress-driven internal climate migration,” he concluded. “This report is a timely call for urgent action at the intersection of climate, migration, and development.”

As the World Bank’s statement outlined, the report’s policy recommendations include:

  • Reducing global emissions and making every effort to meet the temperature goals of the Paris agreement;
  • Embedding internal climate migration in far-sighted green, resilient, and inclusive development planning;
  • Preparing for each phase of migration, so that internal climate migration as an adaptation strategy can result in positive development outcomes; and
  • Investing in better understanding of the drivers of internal climate migration to inform well-targeted policies.

“This is our humanitarian reality right now and we are concerned this is going to be even worse, where vulnerability is more acute,” Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, who wasn’t involved with the report, told the Associated Press.

The AP noted that though many scientists say the world is not on track for the worst-case scenario in terms of planet-heating emissions, van Aalst pointed out that even under more moderate scenarios, climate impacts are now happening more quickly than projected, “including the extremes we are already experiencing, as well as potential implications for migration and displacement.”

Kanta Kumari Rigaud, the World Bank’s lead environment specialist and one of the report’s co-authors, highlighted that even if political and business leaders take the actions scientists say are necessary to decrease emissions, “we’re already locked into a certain amount of warming, so climate migration is a reality.”

“We have to reduce or cut our greenhouse gases to meet the Paris target,” she told Reuters, “because those climate impacts are going to escalate and increase the scale of climate migration.”

While the World Bank’s figures focus on internal displacement in specific regions, previous broader analyses have shown the greater impact that the climate emergency is expected to have on migration in the coming decades, boosting pressure on the Biden administration and other major governments to take action now.

The new report came ahead of a major climate summit for parties to the Paris agreement that kicks off in Scotland on October 31, and as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday delivered a relevant warning to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“A safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is the foundation of human life,” she said. “But today, because of human action—and inhuman inaction—the triple planetary crises of climate change, pollution, and nature loss is directly and severely impacting a broad range of rights, including the rights to adequate food, water, education, housing, health, development, and even life itself.”

Bachelet explained that these interlinked crises “act as threat multipliers—amplifying conflicts, tensions, and structural inequalities, and forcing people into increasingly vulnerable situations. As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era.”

“The greatest uncertainty about these challenges is what policymakers will do about them,” she added. “Addressing the world’s triple environmental crisis is a humanitarian imperative, a human rights imperative, a peace-building imperative, and a development imperative.”

Originally published by CommonDreams

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