Things to come

Eventually, we will all be climate refugees

Climate change has already forced many from their homes. As more of the planet becomes uninhabitable due to lack of food and water, rising seas, wildfires, smoke, heat-waves and extreme weather events, everybody is at risk of becoming climate refugees.

For most Europeans, climate change is steadily starting to show its face. We’ve experienced unprecedented heatwaves and seen the impacts of drought on our forests, rivers, and crops. We’re witnessing the disappearance of wildlife and noticing strange changes in the seasons. For many people around the world, however, far devastating effects have already been felt. Climate change is already too intense to withstand and has forced them from their homes1.

Since the year 2000, people in poorer countries have died from related disasters, many of which were climate related, at rates seven times higher than those in wealthy countries2. In 2018 alone, global-warming-exacerbated weather threats, including storms, cyclones, floods, droughts, wildfires and landslides, displaced around 16 million people3. These aren’t just abstract numbers. Behind every one of these is a personal story of loss and danger – desperate humans fleeing their homelands and risking everything to find safety. In East Africa, for example, it’s either migration or starvation for nearly 11 million people4. There’s no other choice.

According to a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council5, warming of 1.5°C (which we’re likely to reach in the next twenty years) will leave around 500 million people vulnerable to water stress, 36 million with lower crop yields, and expose up to 4.5 billion to heatwaves. By 2030, climate change will plunge around 100 million more people into poverty worldwide6, and by 2050, a minimum of 140 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America alone could be displaced from their homes, becoming climate refugees1:1. And this is just the beginning. Without immediate and radical action, we’re likely to experience worldwide warming of 4°C by the end of this century7.

4°C warming will lead to genuinely apocalyptic consequences. It would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humans have ever experienced. Imagine the following. Land-wise, the tropics are uninhabitable and Southern Europe has become a desert. Extreme weather events like typhoons, heatwaves and droughts regularly batter the globe. And the oceans haven’t fared any better. They contain massive dead zones, and sea levels have risen several metres8. The vast majority of humanity are forced to seek refuge in Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, Alaska, Greenland, and the southern tip of South America – the last few havens where agriculture is still possible7:1.

Without radical efforts to fight the climate crisis, our planet will gradually become inhabitable. The poorest are the first affected, but eventually, we’ll all be at risk of losing our homes and having to migrate to survive. If we wait until we’re all climate refugees, it’ll be far too late. We need to act now!


  1. Rigaud et al., 2018 Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, World Bank Report. ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. 10 Oct 2018, Disasters: UN report shows climate change causing ‘dramatic rise’ in economic losses, UN news. ↩︎

  3. Maram, 2019, How climate change exacerbates the refugee crisis – and what can be done about it, World Economic Forum. ↩︎

  4. Oxfam, How climate change is helping fuel a massive hunger crisis in East Africa. ↩︎

  5. Alston 2019, Climate change and poverty — Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights — A/HRC/41/39, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) Special Report. ↩︎

  6. Hallegatte et al, 2016, Shock Waves : Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, World Bank Report. ↩︎

  7. Gaia, 18 May 2019, The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work, The Guardian, London, United Kingdom. ↩︎ ↩︎

  8. World Bank, 2012, Turn down the heat : why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided, A Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, Washington DC, World Bank. ↩︎