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Climate Refugees: Where Will They Go?

James. P Blair


Countries must begin to plan for climate change refugees, urges a report published in Science magazine.

Refugees are not an issue of the future. Some 10 million people a year are being resettled already – in Vietnam, Mozambique, Alaska, China and the South Pacific – as their homes and livelihoods are threatened by rising waters and melting permafrost. Other refugees may be forced to move due to drought or when regions become too hot or too wet. This has the potential to spark conflicts with other communities, as an increasing number of people compete for a decreasing amount of resources, according to the UNHCR.

Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders expressed his concern at a recent meeting of Commonwealth leaders.  “Not only will some [islands] physically disappear, but in others there will be such severe dislocation of populations that will have to be shifted and shifted to God knows where because nobody has made any plans about what to do if such a tragedy occurs,” he said.

Models and procedures exist for resettlement due to natural disasters, but other examples, such as the relocation of 1.25 million Chinese to make way for the Three Gorges dam, have produced mixed results.

Resettlement efforts for climate refugees will likely move rural residents to urban environments, concludes Alex de Sherbinin, the report’s lead author.  What will be the impact of thousands, if not millions, of refugees on overburdened cities in the developing world, where the impact of climate change will be felt most strongly?

For all the latest science news, check out National Geographic Library’s twice-weekly news rundown, Earth Current.


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