Humans are on the move, en masse! As we continue to use fossil fuels for our energy needs, the concentration of greenhouse gases has been increasing, trapping heat within the atmosphere of our planet and thus raising its average global temperature. As a result, the climate change has triggered unpredictable, extreme weather events which have made populations around the world susceptible to damage to properties and infrastructure, loss of livelihood and in the worst case, loss of human lives. While the developed and resourceful nations are doing their best to adapt to climate changes, it is the smaller and poorer nations which have been bearing the brunt most and to adapt to climate change, they have been migrating.
Climate migrants or “climmigrants” are on the rise; these people have been leaving their homes and livelihood behind owing to climate stressors such as floods, cyclones, heavy or no rainfall, heat waves and drought, bushfires and rising sea levels. What is concerning is that we do not know where they will go. Climate migrants do not have a refugee status because asylum can only be provided on the grounds of the threat of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality or their affiliation to a specific social group or political opinion. This has left millions, across the globe, clueless and their future remains nebulous.
Ironically, it is the poorest and the smallest nations, without enough resources or knowledge, with least contribution to global warming and climate change, who will have to face the ordeal of migration. With a low adaptive capacity to tackle impacts of climate change, the nations most vulnerable to it are already being plagued by social unrest, human rights abuse, political instability and poverty. Acting as a threat multiplier, climate change worsens poverty, internal conflicts and instability. Most such migrants are indigenous and people of colour, belonging to Asia, Africa, and South America. These migrants usually come from rural areas, where they depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods like agriculture and fishing. The disruption in their livelihood and damage to their homes have led them to seek out safer places to live and resettle. Not only the migration has made them more prone to mental health issues, but it has robbed them off their identity in this world. Low lying island nations like Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati have been dealing with rising sea levels which has forced their population to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. The social integration in an alien country has been another major concern which migrants have been facing. The people from the Sahel belt in Africa are some of the worst affected with no water or rains for their arable land to cultivate crops. Further, in Bangladesh, Asia, the farmers have been finding it difficult to cultivate rice owing to seawater salt intrusion in their fields.
The Paris Agreement necessitates a task force which can address the migration and displacement issues caused by climate change impacts. New Zealand, which, looking at the inevitability of climate change migration has created special visas for climate migrants from the Pacific islands. However, more developed nations like the US remain unwelcoming to most of the climate migrants from around the world. As per a study by The International Organisation for Migration, it is estimated that by 2050 such population of climate migrants will be somewhere between 25 million and 143 million! The question is, in the absence of robust plans to give asylum to these migrants, what will happen to them? Where will they go? Are they destined to drown, starve or just succumb to climate change? We need answers to these burning questions, and that too fast if we want to avoid a future rife with chaos and mass destruction.