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Climate Change and Climate Refugees

Called as ‘the world’s forgotten victims’ by the World Economic Forum, the climate refugees are those who are fleeing, as a part of large-scale migration, from their origin due to weather-related disasters. Since 2008, around 24 million people have been displaced due to catastrophic weather-related disasters. Due to the significantly worsening climate crisis, more and more people are forced to flee into other areas due to their homes being heavily affected by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and wildfires. The scarcity of resources, including food and water as well as the intensified intra- and inter-state competition for them, is also considered as one of the causes for such large-scale human migration. According to the UNHCR in their data showing the 21.5 million climate change-caused displaced people, climate change is a complex cause of food and water shortages.


Last November, two massive hurricanes blew Honduras, Guatemala, as well as Salvador and forced a significant number of their people to enter the Mexican border, argued by the World Economic Forum as a part of their journey to touch American soil, the very country that is still struggling to relocate small coastal communities in Alaska and Louisiana due to the rising sea levels.


Another case of human-induced climate change is the Greece wildfires that are still happening since the first blaze in early August. The wildfires have forced 2.000 people to be evacuated and destroyed parts of the island including numbers of houses and businesses. Wildfires also broke out in Italy as well as Turkey, causing the latter country to suffer the worst and hottest temperature, four times higher than the nation’s record. The similarity of all these fires is that it is argued to have resulted from the heatwave coming from human-induced climate change, despite there are also investigations for arson causes.


Desert expansion that is aggravating over time is also reported to be one of the causes that force people to flee their homes. The rising sea level is another problem related to climate change that is undoubtedly known globally. People living in coastal areas, especially the citizens of poor developing countries as well as small island states are at high risk since the sea levels have increased from 160 million to 260 million in 30 years. One of the most salient examples of the impacts of the rising sea levels is the situation in the Pacific Islands. 8 islands have already submerged as an impact of the increased sea levels that rose by 12 millimeters annually. In addition to that, 2 more islands are on the brink of drowning, threatening the populations to migrate to safer countries. According to Brookings, 48 islands are estimated to disappear as a result of the rising ocean in 2100.


It is predicted that the rising sea levels would submerge 17% of Bangladesh by 2050, leaving 20 million people homeless. The northern part of Jakarta, the capital of archipelagic Indonesia, is predicted to be submerged by 95% in 2050. Unfortunately, the prediction’s accuracy is somehow proven by the data. North Jakarta, historically a port city and houses one of the busiest ports in the country, has its sea levels rose by 2.5m since 10 years ago, 25 cm a year, and is continuing to sink. Meanwhile, another source claims that the world’s fastest sinking city of Jakarta sinks 10cm each year.

According to the World Bank, 143 million more climate migrants would be generated from Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia in 2018. Therefore, the governments as well as other authorities must be aware of this issue and consider it as a basis for future policies. The fact that climate refugees are still lacking any formal definition as well as recognition or protection under international law, it is an urgent matter and crucial for international bodies to clarify the exact definition of climate refugees, mapping out the ones who fit the term’s definition. It would be difficult, as there are people such as the Puerto Ricans who were displaced by the hurricane while there are also Pacific Islanders who are forced to move due to the slow changes such as rising sea levels, yet such international agreement is crucial to take place.

In addition to that, such an adequate legal system must be made to protect their human rights. In 2015, the New Zealand authorities denied Ioane Teititoa’s claim of asylum as a ‘climate refugee’, after fleeing his homeland due to land disputes and safe drinking water scarcity. This very case proved that climate change, despite its salient threat to the life of many, is still not perceived as an important matter for the authorities and decision-makers.




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