Recently, the topic of refugees has dominated political debate and has almost entirely eclipsed other issues, such as the environment and global warming. Both subjects are entwined. Climate change is already influencing global migration patterns today and will increasingly do so in the future.
It is clear that people would abandon their homes to save their families and their own lives from war and violence. Others are forced to migrate by poverty and a lack of prospects. Or even by environmental disasters and a creeping deterioration of the environment, which robs communities of their livelihoods, driving them into poverty.
Climate change makes this vicious cycle even worse, leading to more heat waves, more droughts, floods and extreme weather, especially in developing countries. According to a University of Hamburg study, 25 million people a year on average are driven from their homes by natural disasters. The consequences of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia may cause over 140 million people to lose their homes, or be forced to relocate due to droughts, crop failures, storm surges and rising sea waters by 2050, according to a World Bank study. The Hamburg University study references climate simulations which show parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa becoming uninhabitable thanks to prolonged heat waves and desert storms – with temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) on summer nights and daytime temperatures over 46 degrees (115 degrees Fahrenheit).
The vast majority of migration movements occur within the homeland or to neighboring countries, with only a small subset willing to following the uncertain and dangerous road to Europe. These families carry the hope of one day being able to return home when living conditions have improved. Take Tanzania for example. Climate change and its effects – long-lasting droughts, floods and soil erosion – have long been a reality. Crops rot or dry up because there are incessant problems maintaining the water and energy supply.
Anyone who thinks climate change will affect those of us living in Europe, at best, in the distant future, is fooling themselves. Climate change is already affecting our countries.