World Refugee Day: A Call to Action on Climate Change and Displacement

Featured Image: Credit:DFID / Rafiqur Rahman Raqu

Eight months have gone by since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sobering special report on the predictions of a world that will be 0.5oC warmer than it is today. As a global community we must contend with this and prepare for its implications. Probably one of the most inevitable implications will be the displacement of millions of people whose land will become too dry, too wet or simply inaccessible or impossible to use for agriculture. While the scope of what is being predicted exceeds anything we have seen to date, the reality is that humans have been moving in response to climatic events for ever. Periodic famines in Europe, for example, precipitated the massive emigration that went on to populate the USA and Canada, and these are not by any means the only instances of climate instigated migration.

Although the precise nature and directions of forthcoming climate change-related migration are difficult to define, it is clear that some parts of the world will be much more affected than others. Coastal communities in Bangladesh, already arid regions in Ethiopia and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are especially at risk, and over 143 million people are expected to be displaced by 2050 in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America alone.

While globally coordinated prevention and mitigation efforts will remain an important solution, preparedness will be just as crucial. Already overwhelmed cities in emerging economies are likely to bear the brunt and will have to consider essential health-related issues such as housing, water and sanitation. At a time when the World Health Orgaization is calling for Universal Health Coverage and a take-up of the goal of “leaving no one behind”, the spectre of massive unplanned and unmanaged rural-to-urban migration looms large.

In 1962, Rachel Carson, the environmental scientist and author, said to the graduating class of Scripps College: “Your generation must come to terms with the environment. You must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and mastery—not of nature, but of itself. Therein lies our hope and destiny.” Never has this been a more appropriate Call to Action than now.

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