by Akina Nanayakkara
Image Credit: Evangelos Petratos / Flickr
Climate change has become an increasing threat as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached an all-time high as of January 2021. It’s been estimated that carbon dioxide values have increased by 20% over the last 40 years due to more frequent amounts of human activity. One of the most pressing issues caused by climate change is the sharp rise of refugees who have been forced to migrate from their homes. Countries have been taking precautions and formulating methods to tackle climate displacement; however, these efforts have become a point of contention as many people begin to question whether or not enough action is being taken to address this worsening problem.
Natural disasters are common signs of climate change and have been the main catalyst for population displacement. Extreme weather events such as cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons account for a total of 11 million displacements, whilst floods and wildfires account for 10.5 million displacements. These events have seen a sharp increase in recent years due to global temperatures rising and thereby catalyzing the effects. Furthermore, an estimated 5.1 million people across 95 countries were forced out of their hometowns as a result of disasters caused by extreme weather phenomenons. Countries such as Afghanistan, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and Sudan have been the worst affected with a total of 2.8 million citizens internally displaced.
However, these numbers only pertain to the immediate dangers of climate change and do not reflect the impact of rising-sea levels. Sea levels have been rising over the last decade at an estimated 3.6 mm per year. As a result of this, a further estimated 187 million people could be displaced by the year 2100, with populations in coastal towns and cities being hit the worst. Although many countries have installed various flood defense and storm surge barriers, developing countries are left unprotected because they simply cannot afford to prioritize such planning.
That being said, efforts have been made to combat the increasing amount of displaced populations caused by climate-related disasters. The Warsaw International Mechanism, established in 2013, took efforts to develop methods for addressing those displaced by climate change, resulting in the Paris Climate agreement. Furthermore, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, otherwise known as the GCM, was adopted by 164 countries and created plans for other countries to prevent excess migration. The problem with these efforts is that they are non-binding agreements, and as such, countries are not mandated to follow these policies. As empty symbolic gestures, these efforts lack the factors needed to truly create change and to tackle climate change on a realistic level.
Newly elected president, Joe Biden, has promised policies for an immediate pathway for citizenship for thousands of people who have been forced to migrate. Legislation such as the Climate Displaced Persons Act has already been supported by Vice President Kamala Harris. If the bill is passed, it would allow over 50,000 displaced people to be welcomed into the US. However, even this is a small amount considering the sheer quantity of displacements that are occurring and will continue to occur in the future.
In general, the efforts to aid climate refugees fall short considering the rapid displacement of citizens, as well as the long-term threats of rising sea levels. A wealth gap also becomes more prominent as poorer developing countries cannot afford to focus on measures to avoid or tackle climate displacement even though they are the most affected. Overall, global efforts such as agreements and proposed policies set a target for action and a strong acknowledgment for the issue. However, these attempts have yet to show any tangible evidence of change.