Expert Opinion

Why should governments negotiating on climate change care about displacement?

People newly displaced each year by climate and weather related hazards, 2008 – 2012

Disasters related to weather events forced around 120 million people from their homes during 2008-2012 alone. That’s an average of 24 million people per year.

Although we cannot yet attribute this displacement to climate change, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested that there is good reason to believe that the frequency and magnitude of these disasters may actually increase in the future due to human-induced climate change combined with socio-economic and demographic trends. Further to this, the IPCC has highlighted how “for people affected by disasters, subsequent displacement and resettlement often constitute a second disaster in their lives.” (SREX report, 2012)

Most of this displacement occurred in communities vulnerable to the destruction caused by floods and storms, due to the poor quality of people’s homes and their location in flood prone areas, for example. The devastating damage and displacement of over four million people caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is just one of the most recent examples.

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Table 1: People newly displaced by climate and weather-related hazards during 2008-2012

As the data in Table 2 shows, people in both rich and poor countries are displaced by disasters, but the vast majority of people displaced each year live in lower and middle-income developing countries.

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Table 2: Displacement by weather-related disasters in developing and High Income countries

Among developing countries, the relative scale of disaster-induced displacement in small island countries such as Kiribati, as well as in some of the most poor and fragile countries in the world – such as Haiti and South Sudan – affirms that they are disproportionately affected and should be given priority attention.

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Table 3: Countries with the highest relative levels of new displacement by weather-related disasters worldwide (2008-2012)

Governments around the world have acknowledged the need for more information and knowledge about disaster- and climate change-related displacement.  This has been echoed in the conclusions from last year’s Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and in the UN Climate Change negotiations.  With this enhanced understanding, they can take more effective action to prevent, prepare for and respond to displacement in the future.

In our next post, we’ll explain what they are discussing in Warsaw and what they should do. Watch this space and follow us onTwitter @IDMC_Geneva for the latest updates!

For more information please see IDMC’s report: Global Estimates 2012: People displaced by disaster