Mass Displacement: a underappreciated consequence of warming
Paris Accord Considers Climate Change as a Factor in Mass Migration
The New York Times, Dec 12, 2015
LE BOURGET, France — The two-week United Nations climate conference outside Paris that drew to an end on Saturday focused on many of the physical dangers associated with climate change: extreme weather, severe drought, the warming of oceans, rain forest destruction and disruptions to the food supply.
But global warming has already had another effect — the large-scale displacement of people — that has been an ominous, politically sensitive undercurrent in the talks and side events here.
Scientists have said that climate change can indirectly lead to migration by setting off violent conflicts. Scholars have made this connection since at least 2007, when they cited climate change as a reason for the war in Darfur, Sudan.
A drought that lasted from 2006 to 2011 in much of Syria has been cited as a factor in the long-running civil war there, fueling a mass migration to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but also to Europe, Canada and, in small measure, the United States.
Europe, in particular, is experiencing the largest influx of migrants since World War II — Germany alone has already taken in nearly a million this year. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, told world leaders on Nov. 30 that climate change could “destabilize entire regions and start massive forced migrations and conflicts over natural resources.”
The Paris climate accord, adopted on Saturday, calls for developing recommendations “to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change” — an explicit acknowledgment of the dangers of migration that some of the poorest of the 195 countries involved in the talks had sought to include in the text.
From 2008 to 2014, an average of 26.4 million people were displaced each year by floods, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters, according to a report released in July by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, part of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Most moved within their countries.
“Climate-related displacement is not a future phenomenon,” said Marine Franck, who works on climate change and migration for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. “It is a reality; it is already a global concern.”
William Lacy Swing, a retired American ambassador who now leads the International Organization for Migration, said that climate change was adding to a “perfect storm” of “unprecedented human mobility,” a result of the quadrupling of the world’s population over the last century and wars, conflicts and persecution that have displaced a record 60 million people.