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  • Writer's pictureKyle Lowe

The Contributors of Climate Migration

Photo Credit: Dina Haynes

Climate change is underway, yet international bodies tasked with assessing and addressing its transnational impact on migration have yet to sufficiently address the issue.  The International Organization for Migration currently defines Climate Migration as: “persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so” with the details of this move being ”either temporarily or permanently” and “either within their country or abroad”. One limitation to this definition is the implication that the sole push factor for climate migrants is climate change, which is not one of the five grounds listed in the Refugee Convention.  The reality is more complex.  So called “climate migrants” often have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

For example, as global temperatures rise, governments and manufacturers worldwide turn to technologies like rechargeable batteries and solar panels in search of eco-friendly solutions. Materials used, such as Cobalt and Lithium, are abundant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is currently host to the largest number of internally displaced persons in Africa at 6.4 million. As demand for these technologies increases, so does the number of both legal and illegal mining operations. Such operations in the DRC have contaminated the environments near mining sites with toxic metals and accelerated deforestation, intensifying the negative effects of climate change on the human living in the area. The consequent pollution and deforestation has devastated agricultural yields and increased food insecurity in the DRC, two issues which are key factors influencing people to migrate.

The destructive effects of Climate Change can also be worsened before they reach the point of causing people to migrate. Take Libya, for example, where a 2022 REACH Multi-Sector Needs Assessment found that  inhabitants were not living in safe housing, even while human trafficking was proliferating in the country. Domestic infrastructure was also not receiving maintenance as often as it should have in years prior due to political instability. This culminated in September 2023, when intense rainfall caused two dam bursts resulting in flooding which resulted in more than 11 thousand deaths and displacing more than  44 thousand people.  Sudan and Chad, two countries also experiencing political instability, resulting in significant refugee flows and internal relocation, were also hit by massive flooding, further displacing already displaced people.

These are only a few contemporary examples of the political and economic factors which can worsen the effects of climate change on migration.  As we continue our review of Climate Migration, consider how the people in the foregoing examples may be disproportionately impacted on account of their race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. 

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