For a long time, scientists feared the consequence of the climate crisis and advocated for a change. However, since the world deemed the issue a problem for future generations, past governments turned a blind eye to their warning. Thus, today our generation is starting to reap the consequences of the world’s past and ongoing sins against nature. Vulnerable communities are shouldering most of the risk, as the link between climate change and displacement continues to strengthen.
In the past, the word refugee used to only describe people fleeing their homeland out of well-founded fear from prosecution due to race, religion, nationality, or membership of a certain social or political group. However, as the times changed, many started to define refugees as individuals crossing international borders to flee from fatal events that disturb public peace and order, which is the case with climate refugees. However, the world is still debating the official term for such individuals, and many are against the term climate refugees. Therefore, they don’t have any specific right to enter or remain in another under international law.
Of course, climate change will first displace citizens within the borders of their nation before forcing them to flee from it completely. Thus, internal displacement is currently one of the most destructive consequences of climate change, and it is already happening in many countries from all around the world.
Alarming displacement numbers
For the past decade, climate disasters and emergencies have caused the displacement of over 21.5 million people per year on average, with numbers increasing over time. “From Afghanistan to Central America, droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather events are hitting those least equipped to recover and adapt”, stated the UN refugee agency.
Moreover, since almost all displacement takes place in already vulnerable communities, citizens there are the least equipped to deal with climate catastrophes. For example, Afghanistan hosts many of the world’s most vulnerable communities, with armed conflicts already causing internal disruption and displacements. It also experiences at least one climate disaster annually. Over the past 30 years, Afghanistan suffered at least one climate change tragedy in all of its 34 provinces.
“Forced displacement across borders can stem from the interaction between climate change and disasters with conflict and violence, or it can arise from natural or man-made disasters alone. Either situation can trigger international protection needs,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The consequences of climate change reach far beyond rising temperatures. Not only does climate change initiate tragic weather disasters like monsoons, flooding, and wildfires, but it also triggers slow-onset, almost irreversible environmental changes, including rising sea levels and desertification. These disasters, along with their indirect consequences, will render many regions inhabitable, causing displacements.
For example, environmental degradation and slow-onset disasters, such as water decrease and increase, can directly cause hydro-meteorological disasters. Such disasters include tsunamis, floods, and typhoons, which can cause large-scale displacement the moment they occur. On the other hand, even when no up-scale disaster takes place, the water decrease or increase will disrupt the residents’ lives. Then it will cause them to leave their homes for better living conditions and income.
Furthermore, experts are predicting even more alarming numbers in the near future. Norman Myers, a professor at oxford university, predicts that “when global warming takes hold there could be as many as 200 million people [displaced] by disruptions of monsoon systems and other change”.
Moreover, according to a recent World Bank report, “internal climate migrants could number more than 143 million by 2050, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia”.
Climate displacement and education
Though refugees and climate immigrants don’t share the same motives for migrating, they do face the same barriers concerning education. Just like other displaced people, most internally climate displaced individuals experience poverty. Thus, getting a good education can be out of their reach. Moreover, many parents hesitate to enroll their kids in schools since they believe their displacement is temporary. This will disrupt the children’s education and can create lasting consequences.
Furthermore, since they don’t officially fall under the international law category for refugees, they might not have the right to the national education system. Even in cases of successful enrolment, children will most probably face linguistic barriers, xenophobia, violence, discrimination, and displacement trauma.