Today is World Refugee day. A day to focus worldwide attention on the the estimated 40 million people world wide uprooted by violence and persecution. But there is also a new kind of refugee. The climate refugee. In the words of Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees:
Climate change and environmental damage lie behind increasingly frequent natural disasters with dramatic human consequences. Different models of the impact of climate change all present a worrying picture of human displacement. East Africa offers a stark example. All predictions are that desertification will expand steadily, making it difficult for people to earn a living and provoking further migration. All of this is happening in the absence of international capacity and determination to respond.
Last Sunday, Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, made his own statement connecting climate change to the conflict in Darfur:
Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand -- an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.
Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.
It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought.
How bad could it get? The relief organization Christian Aid recently published a report estimating that at least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 due to climate change.
Today, Greenpeace Germany released its own report, estimating 200 million climate refugees by 2040. The worst affected would be those from the poorest countries.
Can our world support that many refugees? I hope it never has to.
If we can get our act together, really reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, then we can keep a lot of people safe and home. Using smart technology to save energy is the fastest most cost effective way to start. Take a step in the right direction today.