Climate Change and Forced Migration

Forced migration, the result of climate change and natural disasters, is a growing issue for International Organisations. The European Union and other inter-governmental agencies are devoting effort and money to develop organizations dedicated solely to migration and environmental changes. In 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) created a new division, the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC), in response to pressing demand coming from member states.

Increasing awareness surrounding climate change issues is imparting local politics, pushing nations to draft new climate and migration policies. Higher frequency of natural disasters, and more displaced populations as a result, have led to more urgency. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), in 2019 the number of new displacements due to natural disasters was estimated to be 24,855,000. The study shows that India has the highest number of displaced people in the world, averaging 3.6 million displaced people a year between 2008 and 2019 due to natural disasters.

Although climate change and natural disasters have been a driver for migration throughout history, the magnitude with which they are directing migration patterns in the last decades have increased exponentially. From the Australian bushfires, to extreme desertification in North Africa, to the storms and floods in South Asia, the intensification of natural disasters forced people all over the world to migrate, creating political, economic, and societal instability.

Recently, the migration patterns from Central and South America to the United States have been heavily influenced by the scarcity of crop yields. The already tense political climate around illegal migration in the US transformed the environmental issue into a political one. Earlier in January, a group of 7,000 people tried to reach the US-Mexico border from Honduras, with the aim of escaping poverty and violence created by recent devastating hurricanes. The caravan was blocked by Guatemalan forces, and many were injured during the process.

More and more people every year apply for asylum in the US as climate refugees. The US has been reluctant to relax its immigration policies, in part due to COVID-19. It is estimated that by 2050 the number of people displaced due to the climate crisis could reach 1.2 billion. As global warming and climate change worsen, natural disasters will only become more and more destructive. As a result, climate-induced migrations will become extremely common, and countries will need to respond with appropriate policies to manage the increasing numbers of displaced people.