Climate migrants are people who are forced to leave their homes and livelihoods due to climate stressors such as sea levels rising, changing rainfall patterns or heavy flooding. The economically vulnerable feel the most pressure to migrate.
Countries with a combination of low adaptive capacities, vulnerable geographies and fragile ecosystems such as small island states and low-lying mega deltas are at the most risk.
The World Bank’s 2018 Groundswell Report predicts that 143 million people in South Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa could become climate refugees by 2050.
The Environmental Justice Foundation reports that climate change has been displacing an average of 21.7 million people annually since 2008. It adds that 95 per cent of human displacement happens in developing countries.
Experts say the majority of environmentally induced migrants are likely to come from rural areas as their livelihoods often depend on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fishing. However, climate migration out of urban areas is also possible as sea level rise affects the densely populated coastal areas.
Media and advocacy groups often refer to climate migrants as ‘climate refugees.’ However, they are not legally considered refugees and not protected by international laws, hence they have no access to compensation or rights.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of people on the move today or in the future due to environmental factors. With no legal status, there is a greater likelihood of them sent back to their homelands or forced into refugee camps.