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Three Things You Should Know … Climate Change & Migration

Climate change is emerging as both a direct and an indirect driver of migration, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities.

For example, drought, fluctuating temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall have reduced crop yields in Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala). This exacerbates poverty, increases violence as people search for other forms of income, and accentuates political instability. Around the world, as people run short of food and abandon farms, they move from their homes in search for opportunities elsewhere.

1. Climate Migrants, Who Are They?

Climate migrants (also referred as Environmentally Displaced People) refers to persons displaced by the far-reaching effects of climate change, such as changing rainfall, heavy flooding, environmental degradation, deterioration and sea level rise.

Today, 1% of the world is a barely livable hot zone. By 2070, that portion could go up to 19%. Skeptics will tell you that humans have always migrated due to climate changes, just think of how climate hastened migrations following the fall of the Mayan Empire or Mongolian movement Westward due to heavy rainfall. But experts are clear: our planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined.

In coming decades, there may be no single issue that affects as many people as profoundly as climate change.  Climate crises will exacerbate competition for scarce resources, increase societal tensions, and unleash political instability. From typhoons in South Asia to drought in the Middle East, climate migration is already here.  It is likely to become more pronounced.

2. Climate Migration is also an American problem

According to one projection, at least 13 million people in the United States will be forced to move by 2100 because of climate change. Across the United States, some 162 million people — nearly one in two — will most likely experience a decline in the quality of their living environment. For 93 million Americans, the changes could be particularly severe, and by 2070, a NYT analysis suggests, if carbon emissions rise at extreme levels, at least four million Americans could find themselves living at the fringe, in places decidedly outside the ideal niche for human life!

The cost of resisting the new climate reality is mounting. Florida officials have already stated that defending some roadways against the sea will be unaffordable. And the nation’s federal flood-insurance program is, for the first time, requiring that some of its disaster payouts be used to move away from areas exposed to climate threats.

3. Migration to urban areas may collapse them

The Red Cross warns that 96 percent of future urban growth will happen in some of the world’s most fragile cities. These urban areas already face a heightened risk of conflict and have governments that are least capable of dealing with it. It’s in these cities, where waves of newcomers stretch infrastructure, resources and services to their limits, that migration researchers warn that the most severe strains on society will unfold. People will be forced to congregate in slums, with little water or electricity, where they are more vulnerable to flooding or other disasters. The surrounding poverty will inevitably fuel extremism and violence.

But like so much of the rest of the climate story, the urbanization trend is just the beginning. Right now a little more than half of the planet’s population lives in urban areas, but by the middle of the century, the World Bank estimates, 67 percent will.

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