As the number of Climate change disasters, more people are forced to flee their homes, particularly in Asia.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, disasters caused a record 32.6 million internal displacements in 2022, which is 41% more than the annual average over the previous decade. It was far more than the 28.3 million people who had been displaced by conflict and violence in the same year.
According to the IDMC, four of the top five countries with the highest number of new internal displacements due to disasters in 2022 were in Asia. Pakistan had the most, with 8.2 million, followed by the Philippines, with 5.5 million, and China, with 3.6 million.
The situation is only going to get worse.
Climate change, according to a 2021 World Bank report, could force 216 million people across six regions to relocate within their countries by 2050.
However, according to Vinod Thomas, a visiting senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, these estimates may be conservative.
“Projections usually underestimate how bad things are, and all the projections point in one direction this is going to increase and increase very rapidly,” Thomas said.
South Asia is the most vulnerable region.
Due to the density of its populations and vulnerability to the effects of climate change, South Asia is likely to have the most people displaced by climate change in the region, he added. He noted that Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are likely to be the hardest hit.
According to the World Economic Forum, climate disasters threaten 10% to 18% of South Asia’s GDP. This is roughly three times the risk that North America faces, and ten times the risk that Europe faces.
Internal displacement caused by climate change has severe economic consequences for the host country, according to Thomas.
According to the IDMC, the cost of one person missing a day of work during Australia’s Black Summer bushfires from 2019 to 2020 was approximately $510. The bushfires resulted in 65,000 new displacements.
The IDMC estimated that just covering the housing needs of those unable to return to their homes for a year would cost between $44 million and $52 million.
People displaced by natural disasters, on the other hand, may choose to leave the country entirely.
“What we have seen regarding external movement is the tip of the iceberg and just a glimpse of what is likely to happen,” he said. “And we are not prepared for that.”
While internal displacement due to climate change is far more common than cross-border displacement, as the effects of climate change worsen, people may begin to migrate across borders, according to Tamara Wood, senior research fellow at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.
Australia signed a migration agreement with Tuvalu in November, offering 280 citizens permanent residency in Australia each year.
According to Pia Oberoi, UNHCR senior advisor on migration and human rights in Southeast Asia, many people are already fleeing climate change and environmental degradation.
According to her, such movements can sometimes be disguised as traditional migration flows, such as labor migration.
For example, there has been little research into why Bangladeshi migrant workers in Southeast Asia are willing to incur large debts to do so.
Some have nothing to return to, Oberoi explained, because climate change may have harmed their domestic crop production. Others may return to slum areas in the cities to which they were forced to relocate if they return to their home country, she added.
Given that people may be forced to migrate as a result of climate change because they are no longer able to cope in their home countries, she believes governments should reconsider the migration channels they provide to see what more can be done to protect people’s human rights.
For example, even though the right to family life is important, it is difficult for people to return to see their families through these migration routes, she added.
Wood stated that sustainable ways of assisting those fleeing their countries due to climate change should include more than just providing a visa, but also assistance such as ensuring their qualifications are recognized, assisting them in integrating into the culture and facilitating the movement of money back home.
“We need to conduct better research to understand their situation and vulnerability, and then build that into pathways to provide a protective response,” he said. Countries can look to their legal systems to see how they can help people affected by climate change, she says.
Improving measures does not “always necessitate the establishment of a new category of protection, a new refugee definition, or new humanitarian pathways,” according to Oberoi. “It could just be the pathways we already have responding adequately to the protection needs of people that are moving.”
Wood believes that putting these measures in place will allow those who want to move ahead of time to do so in a controlled and well-planned manner. She added that this allows them to gradually adjust rather than being forced to do so when they reach a crisis point.
What else should be done?
According to Thomas, countries must focus on three steps to deal with climate displacement: relief and rehabilitation, adaptation to climate change, and mitigation through decarbonization of economies.
He claimed that Asian countries are unprepared for refugee relief and rehabilitation and that they have failed to build social and financial safety nets.
A facility that pulls resources from across countries and makes them available when needed is something to think about in the future, according to Thomas.
“Most of the time, the problem is that when the problem hits, you’re not ready with the financing,” he told me. “So the facility can be opened up as needed, and otherwise, it just earns interest.”
When it comes to adaptation, the money set aside for such measures as coastal defenses must be considered part of the investment budget, not an optional budget, according to Thomas.
“We have to continuously increase adaptation capacity,” he said. “The ability to withstand and improve is required to move the needle on climate migration.”
Wood suggested that other countries, such as the Global North or industrialized nations, should do more to combat climate change. She suggested that this could take the form of providing migration pathways and job opportunities, as well as funding to assist other countries in adapting to and managing the issue.
In 2009, developed countries pledged to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist poorer countries affected by climate change disasters. The OECD announced last month that the long-awaited promise may have been fulfilled.
However, Thomas pointed out that the fund is only a starting point and a drop in the bucket, and that public opinion must change and pressure placed on politicians to act now.
“In the meantime, while we are talking and discussing and quibbling, the millions of climate migrants are the forgotten casualties of climate change,” he said. “They are hidden, they have no voice, and they don’t even have an identity.”
The situation is only going to get worse as millions of people flee their homes.