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Will climate change really bring 72 million more refugees to the West by 2050?

As sea levels rise, temperatures become unbearable, climate disasters become more severe, and tens of thousands of people are left stranded. In addition to the human population it takes, this climate-driven migration is poised to destabilize economic and political stability, which could fuel the conflict. It is estimated that between 31 million and 72 million people in developing countries will be displaced by 2050 as a result of water scarcity, sea level rise and crop loss. Even in a serious effort to reduce global emissions. But that does not mean that all those people will seek refuge with us. And there are other subtleties.

Recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The United Nations Climate Change Unit is exploring the impact of average temperatures on people around the world. The 3,600-page report presents one of the sharpest and most comprehensive images of a warmer world, especially with what happens when people reach the limits of how to adapt and are forced to relocate. The report finds that most climate migration takes place across borders, and that some effects of climate change may actually reduce migration to certain areas. It has also proven misconceptions about why people move.

By 2050, it is estimated that between 31 million and 72 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be displaced as a result of water scarcity, sea level rise and crop damage.

Migration triggered by climate change is already underway

Migration triggered by climate change is already underway and putting people at risk. Rising sea levels, drought and extreme weather have forced people to relocate from areas such as the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and islands in South Asia. Rich countries are also seeing migration from climate change, exacerbating existing inequalities.

According to the IPCC, an average of more than 20 million people have been displaced by severe weather events since 2008, many of them worsened by climate change. Even in the most optimistic conditions for global warming this century, these pressures will only increase.

But migration is a complex phenomenon, and other factors such as economic growth and adaptability can reduce some of the factors that motivate people to move. Researchers recognize that it is difficult to predict how many people will be displaced in the coming decades and which countries will be most affected.

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Some scientists warn that the ways in which we discuss climate migration are misleading and could lead to policies that increase the damage to those most affected by climate change. The causes and consequences of migration are therefore worthy of very detailed discussion.

How much migration takes place depends on how much the planet warms

Migration is the story of human civilization and throughout history people have been displaced for a myriad of reasons. But what differentiates climate change as a driver of displacement is that it forces people to move at an unpredictable and unprecedented rate and scale. How much more migration will take place depends on how much warmer the planet is. There are several ways in which researchers have explored these potential changes.

Kanda Kumari Rikad, a leading environmental expert at the World Bank, mapped the world’s population growth forecasts and then applied the expected changes in the climate. His team studied the subsequent effects on variables such as rainfall and crop productivity, and then modeled how people move around the world. By comparing these predictions with and without the effects of climate change, Ricard and his team were able to find out how much migration increases or decreases as a result of global warming.

The team analyzed migration forecasts in different regions and found that the effects were not uniform or even globally. Climate-induced migration into African countries can be enormous. Under the most serious forecast, 85 million migrants could come from sub-Saharan Africa.

Most migration takes place within borders due to climate change or other factors

Climate change is increasing migration in some places than elsewhere. In Kenya, high rainfall is linked to urban displacement, while in Zambia, high rainfall encourages high displacement. In Ghana, researchers found that drought actually wants to move fewer residents. The rich parts of the world can sustain themselves in the face of rising heat and higher temperatures anyway.

What needs to be more subtle is that the warmer world will lead to crowds of people leaving poor countries for the rich, threatening the security and economy of every place they go. But there is no important context in this story. Initially, most migration due to climate change or other factors takes place within the borders of a country.

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While climate change is putting enormous pressure to move, relocation is often the last resort. People do everything they can to stay where they are. This makes it difficult to keep people away from potential threats such as wildfires or coastal flooding.

Here we go again: Who is going to pay for it?

On the other hand, it means that people are willing to try a variety of strategies to deal with the effects of global warming, even in dangerous areas such as islands where sea levels rise. In Fiji, for example, the government is already moving coastal communities further inland. In Vanuatu, officials are integrating climate change and migration into all aspects of their decision-making, including sectors such as housing and education. In both cases, the focus is on domestic solutions, not international borders.

The pin raises the question of who should pay for such projects and how many countries should contribute to the historically high greenhouse gas emissions. International climate talks have repeatedly stalled because they do not agree on how to compensate the countries that have most benefited from burning fossil fuels and are now experiencing the most severe effects of global warming.

Let us reconsider how migration is perceived as a problem

Some more emitters also see benefits from the effects of global warming. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand rely on workers from the Pacific Islands to grow food. But they do offer some opportunities for permanent relocation for workers from countries such as Tuvalu and Kiribati.

Some researchers say it is worth reconsidering how migration is always viewed as a problem. The idea that we must “solve” climate displacement is rooted in the notion that movement is pathological, that it is the result of a failure to develop, that is adaptable to climate change, or that it is highly resilient. But in reality, migration is a normal social, economic and political process. This is not inherently good or bad, they argue.

Such thinking points to less fear and the direction of greater cooperation between nations. In some cases, migration is mutually beneficial. But reforming the community’s attitude towards immigrants is much easier than it sounds.