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Climate change internally displaced more people than war in 2020

Intense storms, wildfires, and flooding – triggered by marked changes to our climate – were responsible for three times more internally displaced people than violent conflicts last year. Combined, the overall number of those displaced hit record numbers.

Refugee organisations claim our emissions are worsening the refugee crisis significantly, leaving us tittering on the edge of a potential humanitarian nightmare.

According to data published by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the global population of internally displaced people – meaning those forced to move within their own country – hit 55 million in 2020.

The figures here fall in line with a steady rise over the last decade, but crucially, this report underscores our worsening climate as a key factor as to why. The thinnest silver lining ever.

During a year that was the warmest on record – edging out 2016 by a tenth of a degree – 5 million more people were displaced within their own countries than in 2019, with extreme weather events like storms, flooding, and wildfires sweeping across vulnerable regions more frequently.

IDMC has long believed that studies into refugees and displaced populations have underestimated or ignored the impact of extreme weather events. In-fact, its report claims that for the first time in 2020, more people were uprooted from their communities by climate change than war or conflict.

Specifically, those who migrated within their borders due to our warming climate reportedly rose to around 30 million, which would represent a whopping 75% of all internally displaced people that year.

It’s worth mentioning that this sample covers not just the overall total of displaced people at the end of 2020, but also the number of times an individual was forced to migrate (or was displaced) by climate events.

As we often highlight on Thred, the immediate impact of climate change is disproportionately affecting poorer nations, and that fact is strongly reflected in this study’s numbers.

Damage caused by tropical storms and monsoon rains in south east Asia and the Pacific displaced millions in 2020, with many regions also hit by government ordered evacuations. Among those hit hardest were India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and China, who recorded at least four million local displacements each.

By the end of the year, more than 130,000 people were unable to return home after the devastation of cyclone Idai and cyclone Kenneth which ravaged Mozambique and the Comoro Islands for months.

As you’d imagine, in a year where Covid-19 had already gripped the planet, providing the necessary relief and humanitarian aid was, let’s say, complicated. Between the hundreds of millions in damages, and lack of on-hand medical resources, many of these regions are still reeling today.

Speaking on the topic, an author of the report stated: ‘Today’s displacement crises arise from many interconnected factors, including climate and environmental change, protracted conflicts and political instability.’

‘In a world made more fragile by the Covid-19 pandemic, sustained political will and investment in locally owned solutions will be more important than ever.’

On average, someone was forced to flee their home inside their own country every single second last year. If you’re still dubious as to the impact of climate change, give it a moment and let that stat sink in.