Environmental Refugees

Environmental refugees are people who are forced to move away from their homes because the local environment has changed such that it is not longer possible too survive.

Climate change is causing more frequent and more extreme weather events, causing homes to be destroyed.

Global warming is also causing sea levels to rise to the point that some areas become completely submerged.

Warming also melts ice that leads to water shortages and reduced food production, which makes life in many areas unsustainable.

These factors force climate refugees to move to either to a new country or to a new area in their home country.

Unfortunately, current international conventions do not recognise climate change-caused disasters as a category for refugee status. This means that more and more displaced peoples are left unprotected by international law.

There are now more refugees displaced by environmental disasters than by war.

Future trends in climate refugees differ widely. For instance, the UN Institute for Environment and Human Security predicts that 2020 will see 50 million environment refugees, most of whom will be women and children, and rural and indigenous peoples.

Australian National University climate modellers predict that a 2°C temperature rise, the lower end of ‘business as usual’ predictions, would put 100 million people at risk from coastal flooding because of rising sea levels and more extreme weather.

Finally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), projects 150 million climate refugees will exist by the year 2050.

Even the more conservative estimate of 150 million refugees equates to 1.5 % of the world’s population in 2050. Other predictions extend up to 10% of global population.

Broken down, this would mean around 30 million climate refugees in China, 30 million in India, 15 million in Bangladesh, 14 million in Egypt, 10 million from other delta areas and coastal zones, 1 million from Island states like the Maldives and 50 million from rural areas.

To stop these millions of people from loosing their communities and their livelihoods, urgent solutions are needed to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

But islanders, delta-dwelling peoples and rural communities are already facing the decision to move away from their lands. This means that the international community needs to take action to recognise climate refugees under international law, and to direct international aid to help these people, the first victims of climate change.


Environmental Justice Foundation, ‘No Place Like Home’, November 2009, http://www.ejfoundation.org/page590.html#other

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, ‘World Disasters Report 2001’, 2001, http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2001/

Stefan Lovgren, ‘Climate Change Creating Millions of “Eco Refugees,” UN Warns’, National Geographic News, 18 November 2005,http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2005/11/1118_051118_disaster_refugee.html

Stefan Lovgren, ‘Climate Change Creating Millions of “Eco Refugees,” UN Warns’, National Geographic News, 18 November 2005, http://news.nationalgeographic.com.au/news/2005/11/1118_051118_disaster_refugee.html

Friends of the Earth, ‘A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Refugees’,http://www.foe.org.au/resources/publications/climate-justice/CitizensGuide.pdf/view?searchterm=a+citizen

John Vidal, ‘Global Warming Could Create 150 million ‘Climate Refugees’ by 2050’, 3 November 2009, The Guardian,http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/03/global-warming-climate-refugees

Norman Myers, ‘Environmental Refugees in a Globally Warmed World’, BioScience, Vol. 43, No. 11, December 1993, pp. 752-761,http://www.jstor.org/pss/1312319