The Planet

The World Is Already Full of Climate Change Refugees

by Aarian Marshall

December 4, 2015
Destruction in Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam, March 2015. Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Graham Crumb.

More than one in five residents of at least one Pacific island nation say they have migrated because of climate change, according to a report released by the United Nations’ research institute this week. The research indicates that climate change is already affecting migration patterns throughout the world. Climate change refugees are not the future—they are the reality of the current climate crisis.

The report finds that nearly all residents of three small Pacific island nations—Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu—have experienced climate-change-related events in the past 10 years: sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and drought.

As a result, 23 percent of Kiribati migrants say they have chosen to move at least in part because of climate change. Eight percent of Tuvalu residents say the same. Fifteen percent of Tuvaluans left their country for another between 2005 and 2015, while 10 percent of Nauruans and 1.3 percent of Kiribatians said the same. 

Perhaps more distressingly, the report finds that about 10,000 people in the three nations tried to migrate in the decade studied, but were “unable to do so, primarily due to financial constraints,” the authors write.

Southern Bangladesh after Tropical Cyclone Sidr, November 2007. Via Wikimedia Commons user U.S. Marine Corps, photo by Staff Sgt. Julius Hawkins.

Climate change refugees are still not recognized under international law in the same way as those fleeing war or persecution. Another recent U.N. report found that 22.5 million people were displaced annually between 2008 and 2014 because of exactly the sort of “sudden-onset, weather-related hazards” brought on by catastrophic climate change.

Despite the unprecedented global focus on climate change that has grown out of the ongoing two-week United Nations summit in Paris, CBS News reports that participating nations have still not touched upon the issue of climate change refugees.

Working through the legal systems of individual countries to resolve the issue does not appear to have worked, either. Earlier this year, New Zealand rejected a Kiribati man’s claim to refugee status because of the effects of climate change.

(Via Al Jazeera)

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The World Is Already Full of Climate Change Refugees