Humans depend on the natural environment. Our ancestors developed around nutrient-rich river valleys ideal for supporting early human civilization. However, the environment is everchanging, and humans must adjust along with it. Stressors such as rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, extreme weather events, drought, and famine are some of the threats climate change poses to human societies. As climate change effects become increasingly more prevalent, people will be forced to move to safer spaces. But without proper mitigation measures, will such spaces exist?
A World Bank report predicts that the developing world could experience more than 140 million “climate migrants.” The World Bank model, focusing on three main developing regions (Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America), projects mass internal migration by 2050, given a lack of global climate action and development planning. The World Bank report’s team leader Kanta Kumari Rigaud states, “Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks.” The report identifies key “migration hotspots” that may suffer a scarcity of resources and political conflict.
Though developing countries are under greatest threat, the looming migration crisis due to environmental pressures is not unique to these regions. Large migrations due to extreme climate events have already occurred within the United States. In fact, climate catastrophes in the U.S. have displaced over one million people in 2017 alone. Severe droughts in the Midwest, dangerously high temperatures in the Southwest, fires in the West, intensified and frequent hurricanes in the South, and rising seas on the Gulf coast are now on the horizon. These environmental catastrophes will force people to leave their homes – and the consequences will be dire.
Unless migration both within and between countries is properly managed, local and global economies will suffer. Areas that are least equipped to deal with rapidly changing environments, notably developing countries and lower-income communities in developed countries, will bear the burden of climate change’s effects.
The World Bank report and climate change specialists suggest that a sharp boom in climate migrants may be avoidable. The report recommends national and global actions to reduce climate migration including implementing proper development planning and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Some research specialists believe that it is up to developed nations to implement programs to mitigate climate change and fund efforts to help developing countries plan for migration challenges. Though we can only speculate on the future of climate change-induced migration, one thing is for sure: now is the time to prepare and take action.