Global warming : what about climate migration ?


Fleeing the region where they live every day because of present and future environmental drifts, climate refugees are a reflection of global warming. Whether these population displacements are inter or intra-state, they mainly concern countries where the standard of living is relatively low. Reflections on climate migration are regular but for the moment no agreement seems to be in sight. Unless international courts interfere …


Definition of climate refugee

Often associated with the economic situation, migration can also be caused by climate change. According to several studies, this phenomenon will experience significant growth in the coming years. Global warming has serious consequences around the world. Among them are the displacement of populations. These people who flee their place of daily life are called “climate refugees”. Rising sea levels or exposure to extreme weather events are, for example, environmental causes of migration.

Current data about climate migration

Studies diverge on the precise number of climate migrants globally: by 2050, they will be 140 million according to the World Bank, double according to the United Nations (UN).

When these migrants do not move within their original country, they leave it for the countries of the North, richer and often less exposed to extreme climatic phenomena. At least for now.

Among all the regions affected, there are three that are particularly affected to extreme climate phenomenon:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa,
  • South and East Asia
  • Latin America

This situation can pose reception problems and raises the question of the attitude of certain countries towards migration: the EU is rather in a posture of reaction towards a wave arriving by the Italian and Greek coasts, which are more like economic or conflict migrations. Some member states already oppose welcoming refugees so it seems to be difficult to accept some of them in the future. Now it’s all about anticipating climate migration and its consequences.

Nicolas Hulot, then Minister for the Ecological  Transition already noted that climate change “caused twice as many displacements as conflicts” and called for anticipating this situation.

A decision by the UN Human Rights Committee could, however, compel some states to act faster than we think. The court has ruled that no country can expel people when their country is threatened by global warming. This very recent opinion, of January 2020, expresses the opinion that the asylum seeker no longer needs to prove that if he is returned to his country of origin, he is exposed to a “serious and imminent danger “. This non-binding decision can still strongly encourage the international community to take concrete action in this area.

What kind of solutions?

The World Bank wants to be optimistic and highlights the fact that a significant part of these migrations (80%) can be avoided by concrete and rapid measures on 3 main axes:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gases
  • The integration of climate change and its effects in development aid policy
  • Investing in more effective studies on environmental migration at the local level

The organization wants to show the way to anticipate a possible hosting crisis. These flagship measures are intended to instigate a joint response and management on a global scale by transforming these measures into concrete actions. The resolution promises to be all the more complicated to apply. Indeed, because of the reluctance of some powers to accept refugees, places of reception will certainly be limited and expensive to get.

The role of successive UN-organized Conferences of Parties (COPs) should not be forgotten either. Although these meetings have not always been successful, they have brought the subject of climate migration to the forefront. International organizations are thus trying to find common ground between countries that see their populations decrease and potential hosts when this migration is interstate.


A propos de Arnaud GEROLD

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