Unprecedented heat, drought and bushfires have wreaked havoc and misery on the once-temperate British Isles this year, as the effects of climate change are felt beyond the mid-latitudes. Across the channel, Europe’s formerly pleasant Mediterranean climate has been plagued by dangerous fires, smoke, heat, floods and, more recently, glacier collapse for several years. The United States is also constantly faced with extreme events somewhere in the country – and often several at once. When fires get out of control, floods inundate communities, storms destroy buildings or smoke makes the air unbreathable, people are forced to leave their homes. Tens of thousands were evacuated from France’s Gironde region in just one week in July, the same month that mass evacuations were ordered in California and Kentucky. After every disaster, people return to rebuild and adapt, or move permanently to a safer place. In poorer countries, closer to the equator, the situation is much worse. Increasingly, people cannot return, cannot adapt. They have to move. In 2023, this issue will become impossible to ignore.
Climate change is contributing to the mass migration that is already coming to the world’s cities, and it is becoming a critical issue worldwide. In 2022, the number of forcibly displaced people exceeded 100 million for the first time, with climate change displacing more people than conflict. Models show that for every degree of temperature rise, a billion people will be displaced. In the next decade, hundreds of millions of people will need to move – either you will be among them or you will receive them.
We are facing a huge upheaval, a crisis for our species. However, to date there has been little recognition of this inevitable climate migration and certainly no plan to manage it. It has taken decades for governments to take any meaningful action to mitigate climate change by decarbonizing their economies. Now it has started, albeit too late, to avoid global warming. The essential process of Art adaptation climate change—something that must happen everywhere from our built infrastructure to our food and energy systems—has only just begun and still attracts far less funding than mitigation. However, there is a big elephant in the room of the international climate talks that remains unaddressed: there is no way for more and more people to adapt; they will have to move.
A global map of current climate impacts, as well as those projected for decades to come if temperatures continue to rise this century, clearly show that humans will have to leave large areas of the tropics that will become uninhabitable for at least part of the planet . year, from coastlines as sea levels rise and weather becomes more extreme, and from low-lying islands. Adapting infrastructure will not save us, and agriculture will become impossible in places that are now granaries that provide for millions of people. Where will they move? Mainly north to expanded cities and entirely new cities to be built on the livable fringes of Europe, Asia and North America. If properly managed, this migration could provide much-needed population growth in countries with labor shortages due to low birth rates, and it could help reduce poverty in some of the worst-hit countries. If mismanaged, it will be a catastrophic upheaval with huge casualties.
The issue of climate migration is now relevant. This issue will be raised at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) to be held in the UAE in 2023. But it is too important to leave it for the COP discussions. In 2023, we will begin a broader conversation about how we will respond to and manage this mass climate migration as an international community, including considering the creation of a global body to monitor it.
We have failed to prevent climate change; we can still prevent its most disastrous consequences.