Global warming can indirectly lead to migration by setting off violent conflicts. A drought that lasted from 2006 to 2011 in much of Syria has been cited as a factor in the long-running civil war there, fueling a mass migration to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Europe.
LE BOURGET, France — The two-week U.N. climate conference outside Paris that drew to an end Saturday focused on many of the physical dangers associated with climate change: extreme weather, severe drought, the warming of oceans, rain-forest destruction and disruptions to the food supply.
But global warming has already had another effect — the large-scale displacement of people — that has been an ominous, politically sensitive undercurrent in the talks and side events here.
Scientists have said that climate change can indirectly lead to migration by setting off violent conflicts. Scholars have made this connection since at least 2007, when they cited climate change as a reason for the war in Darfur, Sudan.
A drought that lasted from 2006 to 2011 in much of Syria has been cited as a factor in the long-running civil war there, fueling a mass migration to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but also to Europe, Canada and, in small measure, the United States.
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Europe, in particular, is experiencing the largest influx of migrants since World War II — Germany alone has taken in nearly a million this year. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, told world leaders Nov. 30 that climate change could “destabilize entire regions and start massive forced migrations and conflicts over natural resources.”
The Paris climate accord, adopted Saturday, calls for developing recommendations “to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change” — an explicit acknowledgment of the dangers of migration that some of the poorest of the 195 countries involved in the talks had sought to include in the text.
From 2008 to 2014, an average 26.4 million people were displaced each year by floods, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters, according to a report released in July by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, part of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Most moved within their countries.
“Climate-related displacement is not a future phenomenon,” said Marine Franck, who works on climate change and migration for the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees. “It is a reality; it is already a global concern.”
William Lacy Swing, a retired U.S. ambassador who now leads the International Organization for Migration, said that climate change was adding to a “perfect storm” of “unprecedented human mobility,” a result of the quadrupling of the world’s population over the last century and wars, conflicts and persecution that have displaced a record 60 million people.
He said migration had to be viewed “not as a problem to be solved, but a human reality that has to be managed.”
As early as 1990, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned “The greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration.”
It was not until 20 years later, at the 2010 U.N. climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, that countries formally agreed that “climate change-induced migration, displacement and relocation” were among the challenges the world faced in adapting to a warmer planet.
In 2012, the Norwegian and Swiss governments established a research entity, the Nansen Initiative, which found that “a serious legal gap exists with regard to cross-border movements in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.”
The initiative has held consultations in four particularly vulnerable regions — Central America, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the islands of the South Pacific — and plans to recommend a “protection agenda” that may include standards of treatment.
People forced to leave their homes because of climate change are not easily classified under human-rights, refugee or asylum law.
In July, a New Zealand court dismissed a landmark case brought by a man from Kiribati, an island republic in the Central Pacific, who had sought to have his family classified as “climate-change refugees.”
Ioane Teitiota and his family were deported in September.