Migration spurred by climate change could displace millions – UN-backed study

10 June 2009

Climate change has already caused displacement and migration, and could uproot millions more in the future, warns a new United Nations-supported report.

The publication, launched at the UN climate change conference under way in Bonn, Germany, said displacement will get worse “unless vulnerable populations, especially the poorest, are assisted in building climate-resilient livelihoods.”

Researchers interviewed more than 2,000 migrants in various parts of the world and mapped climate change in Central America, the Sahel, glacier zones, the Ganges, Nile and Mekong deltas, Tuvalu and the Maldives, among other areas.

“In coming decades, climate change will motivate or force millions of people to leave their homes in search of viable livelihoods and safety,” said the report, supported by the UN University (UNU), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Bank, Columbia University and the non-governmental organization CARE.

“Unless aggressive measures are taken to halt global warming, the consequences for human migration and displacement could reach a scope and scale that vastly exceed anything that has occurred before,” it said.

Koko Warner of UNU’s Institute for Environment and Human Security told UN Radio that the majority of the migrants polled said that the environment has affected their decision on where and how to live.

“People make their decision about migration to a large extent on their livelihood security,” Ms. Warner said. “Again, and again, when we went to the field, people told us, ‘we’re farmers, we’re fishermen or fisherwomen. We’re day workers and we rely on the environment for our jobs, our livelihoods. If things keep getting worse, we don’t see how we can stay where we are.’”

The report recommends that all countries avoid climate changing activities, plan for human security, invest in resilient livelihoods, prioritize the world’s most vulnerable populations and include migration and adaptation strategies in future planning.

“What we want to do is avert a massive humanitarian crisis,” Ms. Warner said. “We need to avoid dangerous climate change. We need to get that message out.”

In Bonn, negotiations on a new agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, set to replace the Kyoto Protocol, are continuing to progress steadily, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters in New York today.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has reported that more than 200 pages of comments and suggestions for the text, to ultimately be adopted in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, are now on the table, she added.

Reducing deforestation, as well as the facilitation and financing of technologies to help developing countries address climate change, are among the issues delegates have been tackling at the two-week Bonn meeting which wraps up on Friday.

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