Friday, December 22, 2017

Climate Change Refugees

Climate change will drive a huge increase in the number of migrants seeking asylum in Europe if current trends continue, according to a new studyClimate change is predicted to result in more droughts, floods, heatwaves, and other extreme weather, as well as more intense storms and rising sea levels. These effects are likely to render agriculture more difficult, if not impossible, across large swathes of the globe, including sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. The number of migrants attempting to settle in Europe each year will triple by the end of the century based on current climate trends alone, independent of other political and economic factors, according to the research. Even if efforts to curb global warming are successful, the number of applications for asylum could rise by a quarter, the authors predict. 

Wolfram Schlenker, a professor at the school of international and public affairs at Columbia University in New York, and lead author of the study said: “Europe will see increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told the Guardian the results should be taken seriously by policymakers, though current forecasting models frequently fail to take such factors into account. He said: “This study shows how Europe will be impacted by one of the most serious impacts of climate change. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people will be exposed to coastal sea level rise and shifts in extreme weather that will cause mass migrations away from the most vulnerable locations. We know from human history that such migrations often lead to conflict and war, with devastating consequences. The huge potential costs of migration-related conflict are usually omitted from economic models of climate change impacts in the future.”
The authors of the study spotted a trend correlating weather and changes in the number of asylum applications. For instance, countries with average temperatures around 20C – the optimum for growing many crops – show a higher number of applications, while there are fewer asylum seekers from areas with cooler temperatures. The data showed that the more temperatures in a country’s key agricultural regions rose above 20C in the growing season, the more people left their homes for another country. They recorded increases in the number of migrants from hot places such as Iraq and Pakistan when temperatures rose. However, immigration from colder countries fell when temperatures rose towards 20C. The scientists posit that as the globe warms, the number of people seeking asylum in Europe will correspondingly rise. Warming of 2.6C to 4.8C, which climate experts say is likely unless stronger action is taken to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, would result in as many as 660,000 additional asylum seekers coming to Europe each year by 2100, according to the model.
Schlenker said a rise in migration owing to climate change could exacerbate political tensions further. “Europe is already conflicted about how many refugees to admit. Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked.”
Solomon Hsiang, a professor at Berkeley, University of California, and author of a previous study linking conflict and climate change, who was not involved with the current research, said the world must prepare. “We will need to build new institutions and systems to manage this steady flow of asylum-seekers."

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