Climate Change Will Create A New Migration Crisis

Austin Barclay McCullough


We live in an era of accelerating climate change. Our world will be subjected to a worsening series of hazards and disasters as a consequence, and these are likely to disproportionately affect those living in the Global South. We will likely see a new global migration crisis as people migrate North to escape the effects of climate change.

As the earth warms and the global ecosystem is altered in this newly-declared Anthropocene Age, there are a number of natural hazards that will become more frequent and severe. Global warming leads to the melting of the polar ice caps, sea level rise, and flooding of coastal areas. Drought will become more common as rainfall patterns shift. Brush fires will become more frequent.

Some of the most populous areas of the world lie within areas most likely to be affected by these shifts. In particular, the Global South contains large populations in areas likely to bear the brunt of these shifts. Some 17 million people live in and around Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, for instance, which lies in the floodplain of the Ganges Delta and effectively at current sea level. Any rise in average sea level will flood huge swathes of the city and its surrounds. Johannesburg, South Africa, whose metropolitan area includes approximately 9.4 million people, is already feeling the effects of shifting rainfall patterns. Extreme water shortages will potentially make the area uninhabitable. The islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia last summer suffered extreme wildfires that affected the lives of hundreds of thousands. These and other situations are only a taster of what is to come.

Where are people in these and other areas to go? Some will try to stay within the country. Others will migrate to other countries in the Global South. There will also be increasing pressure to move to the Global North, to countries like Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In these locales, they may believe they will be more insulated from the ravages of a changing globe.

So, the question remains for developed nations: how can we best plan for this impending influx? Is it most effective for developed nations to send aid to the Global South pre-emptively, in an attempt to induce more people to stay in their home country and rebuild? This option may experience a lack of political will in the short term. The other option is to plan now for how to deal with the future waves of displaced persons migrating Northward. How is this best accomplished though? Some may feel the Global North has little responsibility to aid those in the South. However, we will all be affected. It is not productive to assign blame or responsibility. We must move forward and plan a solution.

In sum, a mass migration due to climate change effects will happen, given current trends. What will we do to prepare? The course is not clear, but we must start planning now. If we wait, it will be sure to develop into a major crisis, just as climate change effects will become more extreme the longer we wait to act.