Wave of Climate Migration Looms, but It “Doesn’t Have to Be a Crisis”

By Andrea Thompson

As the sea creeps steadily inland in countries such as Bangladesh, and as dwindling rains put already marginal farmland out of play in Ethiopia and other places, a wave of migration triggered by a changing climate is taking shape on the horizon.

But most “climate migrants” will not be heading abroad to start new lives; instead they will settle elsewhere in their home countries. A new World Bank report released this week declares that if nothing is done to curb global warming and factor migration into development planning, by mid-century this internal population shift could involve more than 140 million people in three regions examined: sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America. “Climate change is already a driver of internal migration, and it will become more so in the future,” says John Roome, senior director for climate change at The World Bank Group.

The potential for such a surge in areas comprising 55 percent of the developing world’s population raises questions of environmental justice because those who have contributed least to global warming are forced to shoulder most of the burden. It is incumbent on developed countries like the U.S. to step up, says María Cristina García, a professor of American Studies at Cornell University who was not involved in the report. Developed countries can help by both working to limit greenhouse gas emissions and funding efforts to help developing nations plan for climate migration challenges, García says.

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