Climate migration is increasing but not fully recognized by the world


TIJUANA, Mexico – Deteriorating climate from burning coal and gas is intensifying a series of disasters and uprooting millions, with wildfires engulfing cities in California, rising seas gripping island nations and drought exacerbating conflicts in various parts of the world.

Every year, natural disasters force an average of 21.5 million people from their homes worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And scientists predict that migration will increase as the planet warms. Over the next 30 years, 143 million people are at risk of being uprooted by rising seas, drought, extreme temperatures and other climate disasters, according to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published this year.

Yet the world has yet to officially recognize climate migrants or find formal ways to assess their needs and help them. Here is an overview of climate migration today.


Most climate migrants move within the borders of their country of origin, usually from rural areas to cities after losing their homes or livelihoods due to drought, rising seas or storms. another weather calamity. Because cities also face their own climate-related issues, including soaring temperatures and water scarcity, people are increasingly forced to flee across international borders to seek refuge.

Yet climate migrants do not qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which only offers legal protection to people fleeing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group.


Identifying climate migrants is not easy, especially in regions plagued by poverty, violence and conflict.

As deteriorating weather conditions exacerbate poverty, crime and political instability, and fuel tensions over dwindling resources from Africa to Latin America, climate change is often overlooked as a contributing factor. to the escape of people. According to the UNHCR, 90% of the refugees under its mandate come from countries “on the front line of the climate emergency”.

In El Salvador, for example, dozens of people leave the villages each year due to poor harvests due to drought or floods, and end up in the cities where they become victims of gang violence and end up fleeing their country to cause of these attacks.

“It’s hard to say someone is just moving because of climate change. Are everyone who leaves Honduras after a hurricane climate migrants? Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “And then there are non-climate related environmental risks – people fleeing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis – should these be treated differently than those displaced by climate related phenomena?”

Despite the challenges, it is vital that governments identify climate-displaced people, Ferris added.

“The whole question of definition is not a trivial question – how can you develop a policy for people if you are not clear to whom it applies?” she wrote.

Although no country offers asylum to climate migrants, UNHCR issued legal guidance in October 2020 that opens the door to protecting those displaced by the effects of global warming. He said climate change should be considered in certain scenarios when it intersects with violence, although he did not redefine the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The commission acknowledged that temporary protection may be insufficient if a country cannot remedy the situation of natural disasters, such as rising seas, suggesting that some climate-displaced people may be eligible for resettlement if their place of origin is considered uninhabitable.

A growing number of countries are preparing the ground to become havens for climate migrants. In May, Argentina created a special humanitarian visa for people from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean displaced by natural disasters to allow them to stay for three years.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden ordered his national security adviser to conduct a months-long study that included examining “protection and resettlement options for those displaced directly or indirectly by of climate change”. A working group has been set up, but so far the administration has not adopted such a program.

Low-lying Bangladesh, extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, was among the first to try to adapt to the new reality of migration. Efforts are underway to identify climate-resilient cities where people displaced by rising sea levels, river erosion, cyclonic storms and saltwater intrusion can move to work and, in return, help their new locations economically.


Political debates on migration have long focused on locking borders. Climate change is changing that.

As hundreds of millions of people are set to be uprooted by natural disasters, discussions are growing on how to manage migration flows rather than stop them, as for many people migration will become a tool of survival, according to experts. defenders.

“One of the problems is simply the complete lack of understanding of how the climate forces people to move,” said Amali Tower, founder and executive director of Climate Refugees, an advocacy group focused on raising awareness. people displaced by climate change. “There’s still this idea in the Global North (industrialized countries) that people come here because they’re fleeing poverty and looking for a better life, the American dream. In Europe, it’s the same twist of the same story. “But no one wants to leave their home. We need to address climate displacement as a human security issue, not a border security issue.”

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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