Between 50 million and 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 as a direct result of climate change writes PHOEBE MOORE (Photograph by lightsinmotion / flickr)

Paleoclimatology is the study of climates in the geological past using proxy records gathered from tree rings, ice cores and other such biological substances, and this proves that climate change is natural. Global warming however, is not, being a recent and very threatening phenomenon within climate change which is caused by humans and thus can only be prevented by us. It occurs as a result of a carbon buildup in the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned.

Once in the atmosphere, carbon manifests itself as a greenhouse gas which contribute significantly to the heating of the atmosphere; global warming. Greenhouse gases are currently at an unprecedented level. The collective environmental impact of global warming includes sea levels rising (i.e. towns flooding), increased drought (challenging farming lands), more frequent storms (i.e. repeated destruction of homes), precipitation changes (i.e. reduced biodiversity).

In the extreme aforementioned cases these cause displacement from destroyed homes, damaged livelihoods and dislocated communities. Moreover there is a socio-economic disparity, where certain areas (and predominantly third-world countries) are more affected. Bangladesh which lies less than five metres above sea level and is estimated to disperse approximately 20 million climate refugees by 2050. Malawi suffers extremely low income levels of around $975 or less/year, and the majority of citizens are farmers living in rural areas; however severe drought has ravaged the landscape for the past 25 years leaving 6.5 million malnourished. Sudan, Africa’s largest country, has its highest risk of flooding but also its biggest desertification because of deforestation; this has made rainfall more infrequent and less farming land.

Although climate change more greatly affects the developing countries, more developed countries (particularly in the West) are increasingly impacted. For instance rising sea levels is reclaiming 2mm a year of Venice’s popular European tourist destination. More than 65 million people were displaced by conflict and persecution in 2015, according to the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. Figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre show that since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate- or weather-related events from 2008-2015.

And the situation is only getting worse: between 50 million and 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 because of climate change, according to the UN.

These figures would vastly eclipse the current numbers of people being forced to flee their homes in war-torn countries, particularly in the Middle-East. The so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe (which in reality hosts a fraction of the world’s refugees compared to developing countries), has been met with a rise in Islamophobia, militarisation of borders and the controversial EU-Turkey deal. In the UK it played a huge role in the Brexit campaign, and most recently, the election of Donald Trump in the US and his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The “build a wall” mentality is certainly not an answer now to the largest displacement of people since the second World War, it will be even less so when Trump has to confront his previous assertions that “global warming was created by the Chinese”. America, the West and the world has to confront the climate catastrophes waiting around the corner: if not, we risk a global humanitarian crisis on an unimaginable scale.

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