Worsening tropical storms, desert droughts and rising sea levels will displace 200 million people by 2050, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration included in a report authored by the U.N. University, CARE International and Columbia University.
On the sidelines of climate negotiations in Bonn, the study's authors warned that mass migration could become a dangerous new mega-trend. They called on nations to prepare strategies to deal with the migration and maybe even prevent it by making people less dependent on weather fluctuations, for example by dispensing irrigation technologies in drought regions. "We need new thought models and practical ideas to reduce the threats climate change poses to human health and security," the Berliner Zeitung newspaper quoted the study's main author Koko Warner as saying.
There is no time to lose, as forced migration is already happening: In 2008 an estimated 20 million people lost and fled their homes, aid agencies reported this past week in Bonn.
For the study, "In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement," researches questioned more than 2,000 migrants in 23 countries, focusing on areas likely hit hardest by climate change, such as desert regions, river deltas and islands.
If you have ever vacationed in the Maldives, a group of 1,200 atolls in the Indian Ocean, you might know how endangered these states are. Some 40 island states could disappear if sea levels rise by 6 feet, the report said. The Maldives are already taking security measures by planning fortifications and raising buildings.
Rising sea levels would also threaten global agricultural resources. In the densely populated Ganges, Mekong and Nile River deltas, for example, sea level rises of just 3 feet could reduce land used for agriculture by at least 3.7 million acres, the study found.
If glaciers in the Himalayas continue to melt, then the roughly 1 billion people living near rivers including the Ganges, the Mekong and the Yangtze would have to get ready for repeated flooding. In the summer, expect droughts, because there won't be glacier runoff anymore. Already arid regions will become drier, experts said, forcing people to migrate north, or away from agriculture into the cities.
Experts have in the past warned that climate change will strain natural resources available and increase the likelihood of resource wars. Water will become scarcer in many regions across the globe, and nations are expected to seize and ration national resources. In drought regions, civil unrest or even wars could be the result. Observers are especially concerned over regions in India and China, where billions of people are living. Some experts have said the war in Sudan's Darfur region has been sparked in part by water scarcity and conflicts over grazing lands.