Meghan Benton speaks with Dr. Kelley Lee, head of the Pandemics and Borders initiative at Simon Fraser University in Canada, about what the future holds after COVID-19, and whether decisionmakers truly learn to adapt or instead pull out the playbook from the last crisis.
In Western countries, a common narrative has developed that only poor or developing nations will have to confront human displacement caused by climate change. But communities in the United States and elsewhere have repeatedly moved because of environmental disasters such as flooding. This episode features a discussion on the U.S.
Technically, people forced to move because of climate disasters are not considered “refugees.” But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees still takes climate issues into account, and since 2020 Andrew Harper has been its special advisor on climate action.
Popular discussions usually frame climate change-induced migration negatively, often as a strategy of last resort. But migrating abroad can also be an effective way to build resilience against the impacts of climate change.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have left Central America in recent years, and climate extremes have been identified as one of the factors that might be driving this movement, along with elements such as political instability and violence.
Climate change and international migration both are global issues with aspects that countries try to manage through treaties, pacts, and other types of agreements. But most of the global governance frameworks that exist for climate-induced migration require only voluntary commitments by states.
Among the earliest examples of the disruptions that climate change can bring, some low-lying island countries in the Pacific Ocean are facing serious threats from rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Over the long term, atoll nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands might eventually need to relocate some or all of their populations.
Climate change is already affecting how, whether, and where people migrate. But environmental change is likely to become more extreme in the coming decades, unless the world takes serious action now. How might changes made now impact what future migration looks like?