Global warming could force up to 216 million people to leave the regions where they live by 2050, says a World Bank study published on Monday (13). Lack of water and insufficient agricultural production are the most likely causes of displacement, according to researchers who do not consider this phenomenon to be irreversible.
“Climate change is an increasingly powerful driver of migration,” noted the institution’s experts, stressing “the urgency to act” as “livelihoods and human well-being are increasingly put to the test.”
The new report complements the first of its kind, published in 2018, which focused on three regions of the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. The institution had projected a number of 143 million “climate migrants” by 2050 to these parts of the world.
This time, the study added three other regions: East Asia and Pacific, North Africa and the region comprising Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in order to develop a “global estimate” for poor countries, explains Juergen Voegele, deputy – President of the World Bank responsible for sustainable development.
The 216 million represent “almost 3% of the total population” in these regions, the report’s authors say. However, the number may be even higher, as the World Bank does not count migrants from North America, from rich countries in Europe or even from the Middle East, where climate disasters can also occur.
“It is important to note that this projection is not engraved in marble,” pondered Veogele. “If countries start reducing greenhouse gases, closing development gaps, restoring vital ecosystems and helping people adapt, climate migration could be reduced by about 80%, for 44 million people by 2050” , explains.
But without decisive action, there will be climate migration “hotspots” with significant repercussions for host regions, often ill-prepared to receive so many additional migrants.
“The trajectory of climate migration over the next half century depends on our collective action on climate change and development in the coming years,” concludes Voegele, calling for “immediate” action.
“Not all migrations can be avoided,” he notes. However, “if managed well, changes in population distribution can be part of an effective coping strategy, enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty and build resilient livelihoods,” he says.
For now, the World Bank predicts that by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could have up to 86 million climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million.
Lack of water as an engine for displacements
The report cites several examples, such as North Africa, where the issue of access to water is the main driver of internal migration.
According to World Bank researchers, the lack of water is pushing populations from the non-coastal and inland areas to leave, “slowing development in climate emigration hotspots along the northeastern coast of Tunisia, the Algerian coast, west and south of Morocco”.
In Egypt, the eastern and western parts of the Nile Delta, including Alexandria, may be prone to population departures due to lower availability of fresh water and rising sea levels.
Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, the Casablanca-Rabat corridor and Tangier may, on the contrary, become “hot spots of migratory influx”.
Unsurprisingly, these are the poorest and most vulnerable regions, which are most at risk from the effects of climate change and could lose the development gains made in recent decades.