Climate crisis to cause mass population displacement and growth in refugees, report finds

If natural disasters occur at the same rate recorded over the last 30 years

The Institute for Economics and Peace’s the first Ecological Threat Register (ETR) outlines the ecological threats facing countries that the disruptions they will cause to global populations.

By 2050, the register warns that more than one billion people across 31 countries are likely to be displaced as nations fail to resiliently withstand the turbulence caused by climate change and ecological degradation.

A total of 19 countries facing the highest number of ecological threats are among the world’s most disrupted nations, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan. These nations have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, many of which will seek to move, accounting for around 25% of the global population.

The country with the largest number of people at risk of mass displacements is Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia and Iran.

While European and North American nations will fare better than most developing nations, they won’t be immune from natural disasters such as flooding, water scarcity and a global increase in population. The European refugee crisis in the wake of wars in Syria and Iraq in 2015 saw two million people flee to Europe, and the analysis warns that political unrest and the climate crises will fuel more movements of refugees over the coming decades.

Overall, if natural disasters occur at the same rate recorded over the last 30 years, 1.2 billion could be displaced globally by 2050.

The Institute for Economics and Peace’s founder Steve Killelea said: “Ecological threats and climate change pose serious challenges to global peacefulness. Over the next 30 years lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation. In the absence of action civil unrest, riots and conflict will most likely increase. Covid-19 is already exposing gaps in the global food chain.

“This will have huge social and political impacts, not just in the developing world, but also in the developed, as mass displacement will lead to larger refugee flows to the most developed countries. Ecological change is the next big global threat to our planet and people’s lives, and we must unlock the power of business and government action to build resilience for the places most at risk”

The analysis finds that Asia Pacific has had the most deaths from natural disasters since 1990 with more than 581,000. In Europe, flooding is recorded as the most common natural disaster, accounting for 35 per cent of recorded disasters in the region.

While climate-related state aid has increased 34-fold from $1m 20 years ago to $34bn, most is spent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Asia-Pacific. The analysis found that these levels fall short of what is required to improve resiliency to climate-related threats. This issue could be exacerbated further as developed nations are falling behind on promised $100bn commitments for climate funds.

Population, food and water

Climate-related threats look set to be exacerbated by a predicted growth in population.

Countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Burkini Faso and Uganda are already faced with a plethora of ecological threats and high levels of poverty and are now expected to see rapid growth in population.

Population growth will deliver more challenges over access to food and water. The analysis warns that by 2040, 5.4 billion people – more than half of the world’s projected population – will live in countries experiencing high or extreme water stress. These notable include India and China.

Water scarcity has been a driver of conflict. In the past 10 years, recorded levels of conflict linked to water access increased by 270% globally. As such, water scarcity could drive more people out of their nations.

Food insecurity is also another key concern listed in the analysis, which found that 3.5 billion people could suffer from food insecurity by 2050, compared to 1.5 billion people currently.

As populations increase and land degradation worsen, global food demand is set to increase by 50% by 2050. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, Malawi and Lesotho are the countries most at risk.

Natural degradation 

The catastrophic warnings are echoed by a new report released this week by WWF that warns that nature is being destroyed by human activity at a rate never seen before.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 found that the numbers of mammals, birds, fish, plants and insects globally have fallen by an average of 68% since the 1970s. Agriculture, land use change for farming and over-fishing is fueling this decline.

However, the research does claim that the degradation can be reversed in ambitious conservation efforts are introduced to protect existing wildlife. This will need to be coupled with efforts to stop deforestation and change food production alongside mass-scale rewilding and restoration plans.

Commenting on the report, Sir David Attenborough said: “The Anthropocene could be the moment we achieve a balance with the rest of the natural world and become stewards of our planet. Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials. But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world. 

“The time for pure national interests has passed, internationalism has to be our approach and in doing so bring about a greater equality between what nations take from the world and what they give back. The wealthier nations have taken a lot and the time has now come to give.” 

Matt Mace

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