Dina Ionesco is the head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has been at the forefront of efforts to study the links between migration, the environment and climate. She recently explained we are now living in an era where catastrophic climate-related events are linked to human activity, and this is likely to have a major impact on the way that we decide to migrate, and settle:
“The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.”
“However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will extensively change the patterns of human settlement. Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s lives and homes.”
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification, desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their places of origin.
As Ms. Ionesco explains, “There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of these adverse climate impacts. ….The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.”
“However, our level of awareness and understanding of how environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge, there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and respond. … The main priority is to find solutions that allow people to stay in their homes and give them the means to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This approach aims to avoid instances of desperate migration and its associated tragedies.”