The human cost of the climate crisis

2 min
Floods in Buzi in Mozambique after the fall of cyclone Eloise

We all have the feeling that there are now more natural disasters than before. Sometimes we might think that these are subjective perceptions that do not correspond to reality but simply to the fact that more media attention is given to them. But in this case the reality is that in fact there are more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods or droughts. Specifically 30% more since 1990. And this has consequences on human populations. According to data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDCM), every year an average of 22.7 million people around the world flee their homes as a result of disasters linked to the climate crisis.

This figure is on the rise and it is estimated that it could increase tenfold to 200 million by 2050, so it is a phenomenon that needs to be managed right now, at least on two fronts: policies against climate emergencies and the reception of these climate refugees. The first leg is very clear: stopping global warming is necessary not only to save certain parts of the planet or for environmental reasons, but for the pure survival of the human species. The planet will become ungovernable and uninhabitable if we allow hundreds of millions of people to be forced to leave their places of residence because of these phenomena. We must therefore be aware that the sacrifices we have to make in this area now will be largely rewarded in the future.

Even so, the issue of climate refugees right now raises an interesting debate related to human rights and the specific rights of refugees. So far this concept is only envisaged for people fleeing war or violence, but the reality is that more people are now leaving their homes for climate reasons. In fact, there are three times as many. The question is: who can be considered a climate refugee? Public opinion is sensitized when it comes to spectacular and very destructive phenomena, such as earthquakes or hurricanes, which capture the media's attention, at least for a few days or weeks. But what happens when the effects are more long-term? When drought renders farmland unproductive, lakes that were a source of food dry up, or islands are simply swallowed up by the sea, as is already happening in parts of the Pacific? The Fiji Islands have plans to relocate a hundred villages that will be inundated by rising sea levels, and the Solomons will evacuate an entire town.

The climate refugee debate has already reached the courts in Germany and New Zealand with the case of people appealing for this status. The New Zealand case, moreover, led to a UN resolution in January last year which admitted for the first time that people fleeing to another country seeking refuge from the impacts of the climate crisis "should not be returned" to their home countries. We will have to get used to this new category of refugees, which, unfortunately, will become more and more numerous.