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Climate Hustle

A Convention for Persons Displaced by Climate Change

Posted on 20 April 2011 by David Hodgkinson

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

There are many reasons why climate change is also a legal issue. One reason is because climate change is expected to cause much displacement, which refers to population migration caused by the effects of climate change, which include rising sea levels, heavier floods, more frequent and severe storms, drought and desertification.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Bank and many other organisations warn that the effects of climate change will cause large-scale population movements. Climate displacement presents an urgent problem for the international community.

The existence and scope of such displacement are often established by reference to the likely numbers of displaced people. The most cited estimate is 200 million climate change migrants by 2050 or one person in every forty-five.

There has been no coordinated response by governments to address human displacement, whether domestic or international, temporary or permanent, due to climate change. Given the nature and magnitude of the problem which climate change displacement presents, ad hoc measures based on existing domestic regimes are likely to lead to inconsistency, confusion and conflict. We believe the international community has an obvious interest in resolving the problem of human displacement in an orderly and coordinated fashion before climate change displacement becomes a problem.

We propose a multilateral Convention to address climate change displacement – an issue which is global in its causes, scope and consequences. The Convention would provide a general framework for assistance to climate change displaced persons and would address gaps in current human rights, refugee and humanitarian law protection.

The Convention would largely operate prospectively; assistance to refugees would be based on an assessment of whether their environment was likely to become uninhabitable due to events consistent with anthropogenic climate change such that resettlement measures and assistance were necessary.  In other words, we view displacement as a form of adaptation that creates particular vulnerabilities requiring protection as well as assistance through international cooperation. Our Convention contemplates the provision of pre-emptive resettlement to those most at risk in terms of the impacts of climate change.

It has been suggested that Australia should take the lead in international efforts to develop a framework for responding to climate change displacement. The broader region in which Australia is situated accounts for 60% of the world’s population; it is also a region that will be significantly affected by the effects of climate change.

And, as has been noted, planning for a future of mass displacement due to climate change gives us the opportunity – before millions of people are on the move throughout the world because of climate change – … to develop frameworks and institutions that might not only be politically realistic, but also based on principles that promote human rights and dignity.

An extended version of this post with considerably more detail and background information can be found at Shaping Tomorrow's World, a website dedicated to providing information and a platform for civil discussion about the problems facing our societies.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 72:

  1. Per a 6 year old prediction by UNEP, there should be 50 million climate refugees today.

    Spiegel International article: UN Embarrassed by Forecast on Climate Refugees
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  2. I'm not so sure they're all that wrong. Pakistan has 4 million people still homeless - officially - since the floods displaced 20 million. Personally I'd double that figure. Darfur has a few causes, climate among them, a few million there. How many Mexicans are crossing into the USA, North Africans crossing the Mediterranean to Europe? Within Africa there are many groups on the move even if they've not crossed any borders or created any visible fuss (visible to us that is). As well as all the quiet, tiny tragedies affecting a few thousand here and there that we never hear about.

    It may not be 50 million, but I doubt it's an insignificant number.
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  3. Charlie A: I responded to that meme just the other day: it's not true. The subject was *environmental* refugees. That's a much larger category: I quote extensively from the original research in that link. Factors affecting environmental refugees from the original 1995 report: food and agriculture; water shortages; deforestation; desertification; population pressure; urbanization and mega-cities; unemployment; poverty; extreme weather events. Global warming is mentioned as a multiplier that will make the issue worse, but the subject was never "climate refugees."

    What's more bizarre to me: this all seems to have started from that Asian Correspondent piece, where they attempt to show the predictions were wrong by citing census data from four tropical islands. Does that strike you as a good way to assess the environmental refugee problem? (Or indeed the "climate refugee" problem they thought they were attacking?)

    I haven't dug much deeper, but there does appear to be some confusion among people writing the UNEP press releases as well, which hasn't helped. However, you need to go back to Prof Norman Myers' original research. In 1995, there were already, by some estimates, 25 million environmental refugees. He was estimating (not even really forecasting) another 25 million in the following 15 years - though if you read the research, these numbers are surrounded with caveats. For some reason, critics seem to ignore all the caveats. As far as I know - and I'd love to hear from others here - there has been no systematic attempt to define and measure the problem since then. Perhaps for good reason: as a migration issue, it's very complex - again, something Myers argued in his original piece.

    Here's Myers: "These estimates constitute no more and no less than a first cut assessment. They are advanced with the sole purpose of enabling those to ‘get a handle’, however preliminary and exploratory, on an emergent problem of exceptional significance." He's right of course: it is a massively important issue. That people should dismiss it so lightly, based on someone checking four island's census numbers, hardly suggests to me they have any interest in actually trying to understand the problem. Anyone unable to see the difference between "climate" and "environment" refugees, and the relations betwen the two, is going to have problems contributing to this discussion seriously.
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  4. Dan @3...I had the same "discussion" over at Judith Curry's Place. Judith herself said, 'The unfounded and senseless predictions of the UNEP could very well “backfire and result in policies that marginalise the poorest and vulnerable groups. 
”' The willingness of people of even her stature to accept something as fact without actually looking into the sources is scary. The sources the folks there were pointing me to prove UNEP's duplicity and ignorance, included a UNEP press releases, Natural Disasters Contribute to Rise in Population Displacement. The closest it came to climate change refugees was a blurb in there saying the Red Cross had said "climate change disasters are currently a bigger cause of population displacement than war and persecution." Yet they just kept repeating their idea that UNEP had made this wild prediction that is not true based on the map in the Aisian Correspondent piece you mention. I walked away from that discussion thinking a lot of people are just looking for witches to burn.

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  5. GregS: the only line I managed to find that UNEP got wrong (and this was, interestingly, a link via the first ever constructive discussion I've had on WUWT!) at this press release from 2008:

    "In a related development, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement today that a new kind of casualty was being created by climate change: the environmental refugee."

    ... where the writer misinterprets this article. Clearly, the 'environmental refugee' concept is not new, and isn't solely climate-change related. And incidentally, the original map doesn't have any dates on: it just shows potential vulnerabilities. It's irrelevant.

    It's hard to know how to react: like so many other memes like this, it's hurtled round the interwebs. The story should be the initial confusion of 'climate' and 'environment', and that some guy thinking tropical island census data falsifies anything can somehow lead to so many other venues uncritically buying into it.
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  6. Oops, apologies - wasn't UNEP getting it wrong, it was the UN news centre.
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  7. adelady says "I'm not so sure they're all that wrong. Pakistan has 4 million people still homeless - officially - since the floods displaced 20 million."

    And the head article says "The existence and scope of such displacement are often established by reference to the likely numbers of displaced people. The most cited estimate is 200 million climate change migrants by 2050 or one person in every forty-five."

    Would the 20 million displaced by the recent flood in Pakistan count toward the 200 million number of the head article? Just 4 million? Or none at all?

    People are saying that the UNEP/UNU article of 6 years ago is being misinterpreted. Let's see if we can make more clear what the "200 million climate change migrants by 2050" is intended to convey.
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  8. Charlie,
    20 million people in Pakistan had their homes and livelihoods destroyed by AGW. If your home was destroyed and you had to move to a new city to live with relatives would you be a refugee? Perhaps you could not count people who moved back to their former homes. I would count all 20 million of them. We need to count the refugees from New Orleans also. Adelady lists several more groups. It adds up pretty quickly once you start to list all the climate related events. I would be suprised if it is not 50 million.
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  9. Charlie A: I'm sorry - have you got a link to a UNEP article saying anything about "200 million climate change migrants by 2050"? I can't find one. And did you read my comment about the difference between 'environment' and 'climate?'

    Happy to stand corrected, but you need to provide us with a source. I've already spent far too many hours trying to track down sources that turned out to be non-existent. Please link. I've been through the der Speigel article you linked to: there's nothing more than there was at WUWT. Their headline is wrong.
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  10. Michael sweet: this draws attention to a problem I have with trying to define 'climate refugees'. It's hard enough attaching climate-change fingerprints to weather events, droughts etc, without then going a stage further and identifying who is a 'climate refugee'. Would it not be better to stick to the more measureable 'environmental refugee'? Which has enough of its own legal problems, i gather, from my very brief reading on it so far.

    Given climate change predictions, factors causing environmental refugee movements will get worse. But knowing that at an aggregate level seems quite a different problem to trying to be so specific. I mean: if we say the Pakistan floods were made y% worse due to climate change, do we then label y% of the environmental refugees as climate refugees?

    Of course, I have little idea what I'm talking about! There are doubtless some theories for coming up with these numbers. It would be good to hear about them, and the problems of measurement. (Normal demographics is hard enough!)
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  11. Dan Olner says "Charlie A: I'm sorry - have you got a link to a UNEP article saying anything about "200 million climate change migrants by 2050"? I can't find one. And did you read my comment about the difference between 'environment' and 'climate?'"

    I didn't say that there is a UNEP article predicting "200 million climate change migrants by 2050". As I stated in my comment above, the phrase "200 million climate change migrants by 2050" is taken from the article by David Hodgkinson to which these comments are attached. My question is an attempt to clarify the meaning of what this Skeptical Science article intends to convey.

    One way of clarifying what the Skeptical Science articles reports is to ask whether the 20 million persons displaced by floods in Pakistan would be counted towards the 200 million climate change migrant count, if the floods had taken place in 2050.

    Michael Sweet states "20 million people in Pakistan had their homes and livelihoods destroyed by AGW". So it is clear that at least for Michael Sweet, they would be counted a refugees from anthropogenic global warming.


    Dan --- let's step back and start over. These comments are attached to a Skeptical Science article by David Hodgkinson. A key section of that article reads "The existence and scope of such displacement are often established by reference to the likely numbers of displaced people. The most cited estimate is 200 million climate change migrants by 2050 or one person in every forty-five."

    My question is whether the 20 million displaced by the Pakistan floods, or the 4 million still homeless would, in your understanding of the claim, be included in the definition of "climate change migrants".
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  12. Charlie A: fair enough. Handily, I actually had a go at answering that in response to Michael Sweet - comment 10. Short answer: I don't know, and it seems like a steep proposition to me, but I'd like to know what more knowledgeable people than me have to say on the matter.
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  13. Hmm, slight cop-out answer on my part there... I think a) measuring the number of environmental refugees is entirely feasible (with whopping error bars, but useful numbers can be arrived at) b) that's more useful than trying to work out 'climate refugee' numbers, since that would involve the double whammy of attributing climate effects to environmental problems (OK in aggregate over large timescales, much more problematic for e.g. specific droughts) and then deciding who counted as a refugee. That doesn't change the fact that in aggregate, environmental refugee numbers will massively increase due to climate change - I just can't see how you can do anything but estimate crude aggregates over time.

    But that's an uninformed opinion, and it'd be good to hear from people more familiar with the attribution literature. I've only read Myer's original 1995 stuff and a few follow-ups: that was mainly about giving the environmental refugee problem international attention, AFAIK. I don't know what the state of the art is in estimation...
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  14. Michael Sweet @ 8
    You need to prove your statements. How did AGW create the climate refugees?

    Just sticking with New Orleans (and I assume you are talking about Katrina), that issue had nothing to do with AGW. It had everything to do with a city built below sealevel and protected by dikes and levees. The pumps and levees were not maintained properly due to a corrupt local and state government. They were also not designed to cope with a storm surge the size of what Katrina brought in.

    Now there is an environmental component and that is the loss of wetlands that served as a buffer and "sponge". The loss can be attributed to the creation of canals which accelerated water flow and did not allow the deposition of sediment.
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  15. In regards to floods,here is some interesting commentary on actual observations about floods and stream flows versus the perception. It has links to other technical presentations and peer reviewed literature.

    Per a recent presentation at the European Geosciences Union general assembly earlier this month,

    "Despite common perception, in general, the detected trends are more negative (less intense floods in most recent years) than positive. Similarly, Svensson et al. (2005) and Di Baldassarre et al. (2010) did not find systematical change neither in flood increasing or decreasing numbers nor change in flood magnitudes in their analysis." ref:

    Science works with observations. Politics works with perceptions.
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  16. Harry, all over the world there are cities, infrastructure that are vulnerable for a host of reasons, good and bad. Climate change will convert a higher proportion of these vulnerabilities into crisis every year than if we did not have climate change.

    I remain disappointed that you didn't answer the question at bottom of this post.
    I am genuinely interested in what your response would be. It would also give me some assurance that you don't belong the "climate science must be wrong because believing it would mean taxes/agreeing with Al Gore/environmentalists/world government" crowd.
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  17. Harry:
    James Hansen says that the floods in Pakistan would "almost certainly not" have occured if not for AGW. You need to provide evidence that these extraordinary floods are not caused by AGW. If floods caused by AGW destroyed their houses these refugees are climate refugees. Likewise farmers whose crops fail because of AGW who move are climate refugees.

    Katrina went over an abnormally warm batchof water just before it hie NEw Orleans. It is impossible to know how powerful it would have bee nwithout AGW. By claiming proof is required for attribution of weather events you are denying hte reality of what has been observed.
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  18. Even if the floods in Pakistan were due to AGW, it is going to be problematic to "preemptively resettle" people at risk. It is far better to install flood prevention because floods also occur naturally, including really large floods A 5000-Year Record of Extreme Floods and Climate Change in the Southwestern United States
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  19. If we're talking environment / climate change refugees, we have to face the truth about where people live and why they live there. River deltas, low land beside the ocean and flood plains - why do people live there? The land is fertile because of silt deposition. Catching fish is much easier if you live close to the river or the ocean.

    The reason there _will_ be many, many more environment refugees is because the places that are easiest or best for people to live are the most vulnerable to sea level rise and to flooding from extreme precipitation. And already there are many people dispersing from drought affected lands, including those whose glacier fed water supplies are drying up - South America being a prime example here.

    In my view the number of affected people is not the issue. The big issue is the year. 2050, 2065, 2040? That is the real question.
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  20. Here's a picture of the courses of the Indus from "The Recent History of the Indus" by D. A. Holmes ($10 from JSTOR) that shows why millions of people were affected - the Indus merely behaved as it has historically.
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  21. Eric#20: "the Indus merely behaved as it has historically."

    You can't really tell that from the map you linked.

    Another opinion:

    "Total rainfall stays the same, but it comes in shorter more intense bursts."

    In August 2010, more than half of the normal monsoon rain fell in only one week. Typically it is spread over three months. Professor Sinha remarked: "Rivers just can't cope with all that water in such a short time. It was five times, maybe 10 times, more than normal."

    --emphasis added

    As we are learning with warming, it's the abnormal rates of change that make the difference.
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  22. muoncounter, why does the total stay the same? In any case the cause doesn't really matter if the result is the same. The new channels will displace millions of people, far better to deal with it as a certainty but keep in mind that most people don't like being moved proactively for reasons they may not agree with.
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  23. Eric#22: "why does the total stay the same?"

    I don't know, but I've seen a number of papers showing less frequent but more intense rainfall events under warming scenarios. Example: Sun et al 2007

    ... the shift in precipitation frequency distribution toward extremes results in large increases in very heavy precipitation events (>50 mm day−1), so that for very heavy precipitation, the percentage increase in frequency is much larger than the increase in intensity (31.2% versus 2.4%).
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    Moderator Response: May I draw everybody's attention to the fact that a more extended version of this piece is available on Shaping Tomorrows World. This may not answer all questions raised here, but it goes beyond this brief post which was produced for a 2-3 minute radio broadcast.
  24. Moderator, thanks, that answers my question about resettlement. It is targeted towards island nations and other cases with no possible mitigation measures.
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  25. Michael Sweet #17 says "James Hansen says that the floods in Pakistan would "almost certainly not" have occured if not for AGW." In the link you provided to a file on that appears to be from a Jim Hansen e-mail newsletter, Hansen also made the same exact claim for the 2010 heat wave in Moscow, the 2003 heat wave in Europe, and the all-time record high temperatures reached in many Asian nations in 2010. There is peer reviewed literature that says otherwise for at least two of these events.

    Hansen is first and foremost an activist, and only secondarily a scientist. You linked to one of his work products as an activist.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Correction: Hansen is primarily a scientist, but one who's research has pushed him reluctantly into activism.
  26. Are the people who have lost their homes in the unprecedented Texas wildfires also climate refugees? These types of fires were predicted long ago by climate scientists who have warned about the American west drying out due to climate change. There is no proof yet , but that does not mean that the cause is not AGW.

    Provide a link to your peer reviewed assessements. Since it takes about a year for work to be peer reviewed I am interested in your sources for events that only happened 9 months ago. James Hansen has a long record of being right.
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  27. Charlies @25,

    "Hansen also made the same exact claim for the 2010 heat wave in Moscow, the 2003 heat wave in Europe, and the all-time record high temperatures reached in many Asian nations in 2010. There is peer reviewed literature that says otherwise for at least two of these events."

    Re the peer-reviewed science, you are probably referring to Dole et al. (2011), and that paper speaks specifically to the Russian heat wave, and does not speak to the record high temperatures experienced in Pakistan of May 2010, nor the extreme heat observed elsewhere over central and eastern Asia during the boreal summer. Sophisticated finger printing techniques have found a link between AGW and the European heat wave of 2003, but to my knowledge they have not yet been applied to the Russian heat wave.

    Peer-review continues after publication, and Trenberth has been highly critical of the Dole et al. paper, and I expect that we can see a reply in the literature relatively soon, good science takes time.

    Either way, you are way, way too quick to dismiss the experience, insight and knowledge of an esteemed scientist like Hansen.

    And I'll leave you with this to ponder-- would the Russian heat wave have been as bad had it not been for the underlying anthropogenic warming trend? The answer to that is very likely no.
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  28. Albatross -- thanks for the link on the Russian heatwave.

    There are conflicting opinions on the European heatwave of 2003. The proximate cause was an anticyclone blocking pattern that stalled over western Europe. This dramatically decreased precipitation. Also implicated were the more active than normal West African monsoon.

    Michael Sweet could point to hundreds of extreme weather events and claim AGW is the cause. The same region as the Texas wildfires was the source of the largest group of climate refugees I know of in the USA. The "Okies" (from Oklahoma / West Texas / Texas Panhandle region) of the great dust bowl of the 1930's.

    Australia has also seen massive climate changes. The drought of late '90s through '01 was truly a record breaking drought that caused immense hardship. I have no peer reviewed literature that says the cause of the Federation Drought was not anthropogenic.
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  29. Sweet @ 17
    You can't point to an extreme event and just make the claim that it was caused by AGW. Where is your data and your proof? The closest I could come to finding any scientific information on this are articles where various scientists said AGW "may" have caused the flooding.

    From "Indus Basin River System - Flooding and Flood Mitigation" by H. Rehman and A. Kamal, 1995

    "The river system is mainly snow-fed but during monsoons carries major floods. The floods are a regular phenomenon with losses running into millions. Fatalities due to flooding are also common."

    Found here.

    The Indus River floods every year because of the monsoon, and has done so since before man kept records, and will continue to do so long after man is gone.

    If you still firmly believe that AGW contributed to this event in 2010, please show your data.
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  30. scaddenp@16
    I appreciate the challenge, but just don't have the time to research it.
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  31. Harry#29: "You can't point to an extreme event and just make the claim"

    Nor can you necessarily dismiss the increasing probability for extreme precipitation events as due to warming simply by saying 'no, its not".

    Some data for anomalous conditions in the 2010 Indus floods here and in general here.

    Interesting that the list of dismissives: 'you can't claim heat waves of 2003 or 2010' weren't made worse by warming, then 'flooding isn't made more frequent', 'Arctic isn't melting faster', keeps getting longer.
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  32. Muon @ 31
    I did not dismiss anything. I simply asked for the data and the proof of a direct connection.

    Also, it is very interesting that the first article you linked to stated the following:

    "During a warm period ending about 6,000 years ago, the Indus was a monster river, more powerful and more prone to flooding than today.

    Then, 4,000 years ago, as the climate cooled, a large part of it simply dried up. Deserts appeared whether mighty torrents once flowed."

    So, the climate changed before just as it's doing now. I'm certain humans (and other animals) had to move in the past, and will have to move in the future.
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  33. For purposes of the original argument it also doesn't matter whether these various extreme weather events were 'caused' by global warming or not. The actual statement was that there would be "environmental" refugees. We can quibble over whether these were climate change events, but certainly not over whether they were environmental (as opposed to political for instance) events.
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  34. Harry#32: No one denies that there were floods in the past; no one denies that climate has changed before now. What we must deal with is the question of whether there are systematic changes in the frequency and intensity of these events. As pointed out here, there was something out of the ordinary about the 2010 Indus valley flooding.

    Perhaps the extreme weather thread is a better place for the discussion of what has become known as 'attribution' (although 'retribution' may be appropriate). As usual, there are experts working these problems.
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  35. I find it interesting that Harry claims that floods 6,000 years ago during a different climate era are relevant to the discussion. In recorded human history going back over 1,000 years there is no record of any floods that compare with the Pakistan floods last year. Likewise there are no records of similar Russian heat waves for 1,000 years. You can handwave off 1 in 1000 year events as long as you like but eventually it becomes a trend.

    It is too early to have scientific evidence for the Texas fires, they are currently occuring, but the newspaper article I linked states they are "unprecedented". If you want to challenge that description you need to provide a link to evidence, otherwise you are just hand waving.
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  36. In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that climate change would create 50 million climate refugees by 2010.

    That obviously did not happen. Not even close. So, now the date is pushed out to 2050 and the number of refugees increased to 200 million.

    Amusing to say the least.
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  37. Sweete @ 35

    In reference to the Russian heat wave, from the American Geophysical Union (3-9-11). Link here.

    "While a contribution to the heat wave from climate change could not be entirely ruled out, if it was present, it played a much smaller role than naturally occurring meteorological processes in explaining this heat wave's intensity.
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  38. michael s #35: "It is too early to have scientific evidence for the Texas fires,"

    The drought monitor is a good clue that something unusual is taking place:
    D4 = 'Exceptional'

    -- full size source
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  39. Harry, I can't find that figure of 50 million. Can you provide a link? I found where UNEP identified 25 million already on the move, but I can't find a prediction of 50 million refugees by 2010.
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  40. Harry @37,

    They may be correct, but you are assuming that there is no work in progress to apply similar finger printing techniques that found an AGW signal in the 2003 European heatwave. Also, you seem to be dismissing (or at least ignoring) Trenberth's critique of the Dole et al. paper. Good science takes time, give the scientists some time to look at this case properly. I expect that some more papers will be appearing in the literature sometime this year or early next year.

    Harry @36,
    I see that you have been doing the rounds reading the gossip on the internet--while you may find the errant prediction regarding the numbers of climate refugees amusing (the prediction it seems was made by environmental scientist Norman Myers), I assure you that those being directly affecting with the increasing frequency of extreme events vehemently disagree.

    I will be quite honest, these kind of predictions make me uneasy-- it is far to easy for contrarians and those in denial about AGW to cite these misguided calculations as evidence that AGW is exaggerated or to label people concerned about AGW as "alarmist". With that said, I do not believe that prediction was cited in WGII or AR4.

    Let me guess, you are typing your posts from somewhere in the developed world and not the flood affected region of Pakistan. Easy to make glib and smug comments from the comfort of one's cosy, dry and secure home with plenty of food-- unfortunately, that is not the reality facing those affected by extreme events, extreme events that are increasing as the planet warms. Go here, and click on "6 Billion Others". Casveat-- anecdotal evidence I know, but their experiences are consistent with what the science and observations are finding, not to mention Munich Re.


    "Among dozens of climate facts and figures, the report shows that the number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean affected by extreme temperatures, forest fires, droughts, storms and floods grew from 5 million in the 1970s to more than 40 million from 2000 to 2009. Overall, adverse weather conditions have cost the region more than US$40 billion in the last ten years. For Mexico the estimated annual cost of dealing with the effects of climate change will be 6.22% of current GDP net present value by 2100 . Such costs will intensify budget constraints across Latin America and the Caribbean and may complicate attempts to reduce poverty and to meet the Millennium Development Goals."


    Predicting the number of people that are affected by AGW and that will be affected by AGW is incredibly tough, and that prediction by Myers was clearly very wrong, but that doesn't mean every forecast related to AGW is now wrong, nor does it mean that no-one will be negatively or that no-one has been negatively affected by AGW-- besides, this is still quite early days in our stupid experiment.

    What is your prediction Harry-- how many people do you think will die or have died or negatively affected as a result of AGW? How many refugees do you expect there will be come 2050? Even if, in the end, only say 1% of the current projection (i.e., 2 million) are affected, that is 2 million too many in my opinion.

    We have been warned, we know that we are a major contributing factor to this unraveling disaster that is playing out in slow motion.
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  41. "I appreciate the challenge, but just don't have the time to research it"

    Its not about research really - it about what is acceptable to a particular ideological position. We need solutions to limit CO2 and they need to be solutions that the economic right will support.
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  42. Harry, in the past there weren't so many people. Second, large migrations of people from one place to another already occupied by people haven't been that pleasant for one party or other.
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  43. DSL @39,

    Well, well. This is what you get when you follow the link at WUWT,

    "This graphic was originally produced for the Environmental Atlas of the newspaper Le Monde diplomatique.

    We have decided to withdraw the product and accompanying text. It follows some media reports suggesting the findings presented were those of UNEP and the UN which they are not.

    We hope this clarifies the situation.

    However, why the heck were they featuring the graphic on their site in the first place then? Somebody at UNEP has some explaining to do.
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  44. As I'm coming late to this topic, I want to firstly and primarily thank Dan Olen whose references to primary sources is invaluable.

    As I understand the situation, in 1995, Norman Myers made a prediction that the number of environmental refugees would grow from 25 million in 1995 to 50 million by 2010. By "refugee" Myers' meant anybody who was currently temporarily displaced, or who had become permanently displaced from their normal place of residence. By "environmental refugee" he meant any "refugee" who had been displaced due to a change in the environment in which they lived, including such changes are increased population and the construction of dams. He explicitly includes people who are displaced because population growth in their original place of residence has been so great that there is insufficient farmland for them to make a living there. He does indicate that by 2025 climate change will exacerbate the situation. But, he is certainly not claiming that there would be 50 million "climate change refugees". For instance, he expects by 2050 (and in the absence of a major engineering program to combat the problem) 12 million displaced people in Egypt due to "sea level rise", but attributes most of that rise to subsidence of the Nile Delta, primarily because the Aswan dam filters silt from the Nile (p 143).

    In 2005 Myers summarized his report for UNEP, but without the prediction for 2010. At some later date, an unknown system operator at UNEP placed a map showing areas of environmental distress:

    (Hosted by News Ltd)

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, but they placed a title on the map saying "Fifty Million Climate Refugees by 2010"

    (Hosted by WUWT)

    That is, of course, completely wrong, and completely misrepresents both the original study and the 2005 report. So there has not been a failure of science or prediction at UNEP, but a failure at communication. For this, Myers may be partially responsible in using a non-standard definition of refugee, although one that he did not invent. On the other hand "environmentally displaced person" is an awkward coinage, and he did provide a clear de facto definition of his usage of the term "environmental refugee" as the first paragraph of his original study and the subsequent report. He also carefully discusses the definition of "environmental refugee" and the difficulty distinguishing them from economic "refugees" on pages 17 and 18 of his paper.

    Culpable or not, his terminology is unfortunate in that it has lead to widespread misunderstanding. One example of the misunderstanding is in the original post in which David Hodgkinson writes, "The most cited estimate is 200 million climate change migrants by 2050 or one person in every forty-five." According to Wikipedia, that "most cited figure" comes from a subsequent paper by Myers (Myers, N. (1997). ‘Environmental Refugees’, Population and Environment), and therefore clearly refers to "environmental refugees and not just climate change refugees.

    So, was the prediction wrong? Well clearly we cannot find out by looking at UNHCR figures. The UNHCR only classifies as refugees or internally displaced people those who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" has either fled their country (refugees) or moved from their normal place of residence within the borders of their original country (Internally Displaced People) which categories are by definition not environmental refugees. The UNHCR also classifies as IDP a small number of people rendered homeless by natural disasters, but for the vast majority of environmental refugees who have found some form of home, even if it is just a shared room in a third world slum, they do not come under the UNHCR's definition.

    To actually know if the prediction was correct or incorrect, we would need an extensive study of international and intra-national migration and the reasons for it, since 1995. Certainly vastly more than 25 million people have moved their place of residence permanently or semi-permanently since 1995, but how many have done it for environmental reasons?

    Adelady has already indicated the 4 million Pakistani's still homeless as a result of the 2010 flood. To that we can add 1.24 million Chinese displaced by the Three Gorges Dam. We can add a further 100 thousand environmental "refugees" from Hurricane Katrina (the population loss of New Orleans minus the trend population decline over the 6 years since the Hurricane). What else? I wouldn't know where to look to find out, but would greatly appreciate any additions to the list.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Tom, you can't link directly to a picture or graph contained in PDF format with the intent to display it as a picture or graphic here.  PNG, GIF or JPG work best.  Gremlins dead, fixed image.

  45. DB: Thanks - I wondered what the problem was. I included the link so there is no need to actually fix the graphic.
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  46. Tom @44,

    After Googling "UNEP +2005 +50 million +refugees" earlier today and reading through some of the hyperventelating drivel from some media outlets (including Der Spiegel) and the denialosphere, your post came as a breath of fresh air.

    Thanks for this and for stating the facts. This is again another case of the contrarians and deniers of AGW demonstrating their bias, prejudice and asymmetrical skeptical and critical thinking skills. Disgusting.

    Tom, data from the iDMCmay be helpful. Specifically, see their 2009 report titled "Monitoring disaster displacement in the context of climate change ", in which they state:

    "At least 36 million people were displaced by sudden-onset natural disasters which occurred in 2008, including over 20 million displaced by climate-related, sudden-onset disasters, according to a new report by NRC/IDMC and OCHA. In comparison, 4.6 million people were newly internally displaced during the year by conflict and violence. "

    I do not know much about iDMC, so caveat emptor-- but from what little I did read tonight they seem reputable and work with OCHA.
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  47. Many thanks to Albatross, Dan Olner, and Adelady for their information and perspectives.


    Honestly, if the nations of the world have done so little to address the cause of the problem, I have little hope that they will be willing to proactively invest in mitigating solutions to the problem.

    Climate refugees will always be difficult to get an exact count on. It's like cancer and smoking, you can't really say with high confidence that any individual contracted cancer because of smoking, but you can say with high confidence that the incidence of cancer is higher amongst smokers.

    Is it just my eyes, or is there a reasonable association with areas labeled as being at risk for droughts in the 2005 map above and the droughts that have recently occurred in Russia, Texas, and narrowly avoided in China?
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  48. Albatross @44 Thankyou, and I'm glad you appreciated the comment.

    I spent much of yesterday trying to narrow down how many environmental "refugees" there are, without a great deal of success. Part of the problem is classification. For example, there are about 50 thousand people currently displaced in Somalia at the moment, but do they count as environmentally displaced people because of the drought, or as traditionaly "internally displaced people" because of the fighting that has broken out between neighbouring villages over water rights? What of the 1.4 million Somali's in refugee camps outside the country who have fled over the last decade? Do they count as traditional refugee's because they have fled the civil wars and break down of law inside Somalia, or as environmental refugees because of the extended droughts which partly caused the breakdown of civil society in Somalia? I would say the former are EDP while the latter are not, but there is no hard and fast distinction.

    Partly it is a problem of the very loose definition of "Environmental Refugees", which includes both (what I would call) environmentally displaced people, ie, people rendered homeless or forced to live in temporary accommodation by deterioration of their environment including by sudden onset catastrophes, and what I would call Environmental Migrants, ie, people who have migrated either internationally or intra-nationally because of a deterioration of their environment. Myers includes both groups within his definition of "Environmental Refugees", but while a displaced person is only displaced until they find a new home, a migrant is a migrant for the rest of their life. There is nothing wrong per se with this inclusion academically, but for policy debate it does render his figures almost completely irrelevant.

    Looking at the first group, we can start putting some figure on 2008 (for which I have significant data) though not 2010 (for which I do not). Starting with the iDMC report we have 36 million people displaced or evacuated due to sudden onset natural disasters. To that we should add those displaced by drought, which is likely to be a significant number, but for which I do not have a figure. To that we must add (given Myers' very broad definition) the 10 million plus people displaced annually by dam construction and other infrastructure development. That brings us to more than 46 million environmentally displaced persons alone in 2008.

    To that we must also add the number of environmental migrants. That is far more difficult to quantify because decisions to emigrate are governed by a large number of factors. One attempt to determine the significance of environmental factors in immigration correlated a variety of factors including environmental factors. The dominant factors by a very large margin were pull factors - ie, factors determining which country is migrated to once a decision to migrate is made. This include contiguity (shared borders), common language, shared colonial history either directly (immigration to a former colonizing power) or indirectly (immigration to a former colony of the nation that colonized the source country). Clearly when people decide to migrate they migrate to nations in which they have some cultural connection. But as regard push factors, factors likely to lead to a decision to migrate in the first place, environmental factors are significant. Some (eg, lack of potable water, soil salinity) are more significant factors than low GDP in the source nation, or high GDP in the target nation. I think this study does not lend itself to a simple interpretation, but it does show that environmental migrants do exist. It is rather less helpful in quantifying how many exist, however. It could be interpreted to support any figure from around a million annually (5% of total immigration) to 3 or 4 times that figure, which in turn would lead to an estimate of around 10 to 40 million environmental migrants world wide, with a significantly larger number of internal environmental migrants. These figures are, however, nothing to go to the press about.

    Regardless of the insecurity of some of these figures, it is clear if we just consider environmentally displaced people alone (ie, the 46 million plus in 2008) Myers was in the right ball park. If we include environmental migrants alone, he has clearly underestimated the number of "environmental refugees", but whether by 10% or 50%, how knows.

    What is also clear that those ridiculing his figures have made no serious analysis of what was actually claimed; nor of how many "environmental refugees" actually existed in 2010.

    However, I am not inclined to give Myers a free pass on this. I think the choice of the term "environmental refugee" invited the misunderstandings that are all to evident in discussions of this issue. It is not that he was academically wrong, as he was clear in his definition. But he should have been aware of the rhetorical impact of the term, and chosen a more neutral one. He also should have, IMO, provided some clear subcategories, and figures for them as well. In this topic, the subcategories are far more interesting (even academically) than the grand total.
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  49. Tom, I'd raise those numbers for Somalia.

    The UNHCR has the total number of internally displaced people as 1.5 million. Many of these are, of course, fleeing violence, but seeing as a UN official told the BBC about two and a half million people had been affected by drought I'd say a majority would be on the move for basic subsistence reasons.
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  50. Tom:
    You have found close to or above 50 million refugees in 2008 alone. With the Pakistan floods 2010 must be similar. The total for 2008-2010 would be twice what Meyers estimated, or more. It seems that your actual numbers have quieted the trolls. If they had any real data to discuss, and not just hand waving and doubt, they would come on again. I note the lack of data from them concerning the Texas wildfires. I do not expect to see them again here.

    Thanks for your numbers. They will be a good resource to refer to in the future.
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