Climate Action

The cost of the climate crisis? 20 million homeless every year

Climate change is causing people to leave their homes on a mass scale, says Oxfam

Over the past decade, extreme weather has displaced 20 million people a year Image: REUTERS/Marco Bello

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  • Every two seconds, a weather-related disaster forces someone on the planet from their home, Oxfam says.
  • Climate change is increasing the threat from extreme floods, droughts and wildfires, leaving millions displaced each year.
  • Poorer countries are more at risk than wealthy nations.

The news that our climate is warming will no longer come as a surprise. What might shock you, though, is that every two seconds the crisis forces someone around the world to leave their home, according to a new study.

Have you read?
  • 9 climate tipping points pushing Earth to the point of no return
  • Climate adaptation could make the world more peaceful

Over the past decade, extreme weather has displaced 20 million people a year, Oxfam’s Forced from Home report states. That’s the equivalent of the population of China’s capital city, Beijing, having to leave their homes each year.

Nobody is immune from this growing threat, but poor countries are more vulnerable than their wealthy neighbours.

Climate change displaces people from their homes
Weathering the crisis: Climate change is forcing people from their homes Image: Statista

As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the likelihood of severe floods, cyclones, wildfires and other weather extremes increases.

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of weather-related climate disasters that have forced people from their homes. The total jumped from just over 200 to more than 1,500 within a decade, making climate disaster the world’s leading cause of internal displacement.

Today, people are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by climate-fuelled disasters than natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Poor worst-affected

Over the past decade, about 80% of those displaced lived in Asia, which is home to more than a third of the world’s poor.

Oxfam’s research shows people in low and middle-income nations around the world, such as India or Nigeria, are four times more likely to be displaced by extreme weather disasters than those in wealthy nations.

This despite poorer nations generally contributing less of the CO2 emissions that are fuelling the problem.

Small island states, such as Cuba and Dominica, are among the worst affected areas, making up seven of the 10 countries most at risk. Inhabitants of these islands are 150 times more likely to be driven from their homes by extreme weather than people living in Europe.

Somalia has suffered years of extreme droughts.
Image: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

For countries like Somalia, weather extremes are compounding existing problems of displacement from conflict. People in the war-torn country have endured years of severe droughts, which have decimated crops and livestock, and dangerous floods.

Around the world, extreme weather is now three times more likely than conflict to force people from their homes, but for the people of Somalia, both threats are very real.

The price of pollution

Although poorer countries are paying a heavy price for the world’s polluting ways, climate change is a global problem.

Oxfam says the international community must establish a new “loss and damage” finance facility to help poorer countries recover from the impact of climate disasters.

The report also calls for more urgent and ambitious cuts to global emissions, a topic which is likely to dominate the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in Madrid.

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Related topics:
Climate ActionGeographies in DepthNature and Biodiversity
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