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Climate refugees, or climate migrants, are one of the many consequences of climate change. It refers to the growing number of people displaced because of natural disasters or other climate-related changes. The latter is usually related to farmers whose land can no longer be farmed, for example, because of drought, rising water levels or changes in weather patterns.

Climate refugees are increasingly common today. People are displaced daily because of climate change, both within nations and across borders. More so, the most vulnerable communities in the world are affected the most. According to the site Climate Refugee, up to 60 % of the 30.6 million people displaced in 2017 were climate refugees.

The term climate refugee

The term “climate refugee” is used by media and advocacy groups. It is not an acknowledged term. The reason is that “refugee” is a legal term defining people who fear persecution, for example, due to religion or politics. Therefore, climate refugees don’t fall under the traditional refugee definition. This fact can create problems for people fleeing due to climate change. For instance, they might not get the same legal rights for protection as other refugees. 

Photo of a forest fire, in relation to climate refugees.

Climate refugees in the future

If the work to mitigate climate change fails, there will be many climate refugees in the future. For example, some scientists expect about 30 million refugees from India and China. And around 15 million people from Bangladesh and Egypt together. By 2050, 150-200 million people risk misplacement due to climate change. However, other estimates are up to 1.2 billion people. Overall, it is challenging to guess how many people will be affected as climate change creates chain reactions that are hard to predict.  

Refugees from Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a nation that is very vulnerable to climate change, as most of the country is very close to the sea level. Since the melting ice will raise the sea level, most Bangladesh risks disappearing underwater.   

Relevant documentaries

There are many documentaries to watch if one wants to learn about climate refugees. For example, the movie Climate Refugees, released in 2010, and Sun Come Up in 2011. The latter is about people fleeing Papua New Guinea. These movies illustrate what life as a climate refugee could look like for many humans in the future.  

Examples of sources: Climate RefugeesOHCHRWe Forum

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