24 June 2021

Climate change displaced millions of people in 2020

New figures from the World Bank have cast light on the growing number of people that are displaced. They suggest that there were around 40.5 million people who were internally displaced in 2020, bringing the current number of internally displaced people (IDPs) to 55 million people, the most in recorded history and twice the number of people that were internally displaced in 2013. If the number of refugees was added to the number of IDPs then a total of 80 million people were displaced by the end of 2020, another record. This dire situation presents itself at a moment of increasing severity of climate-related weather events.

Extreme weather events are a large driver of displacement. In 2019, 25 million people were displaced internally by weather-related events. In 2020, up to 30 million people were displaced by weather events in China, India and Bangladesh. Another source of displaced people was conflicts in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burkina Faso. Some of these conflicts were also aggravated by climate change. 

These people are often in the least developed and politically stable countries, where adaptive capacity is limited. For example, flash floods in Somalia displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Once in refugee camps, they found it difficult to re-establish livelihood stability and were vulnerable to recruitment from extremist groups.

According to the World Bank, 140 million people could be forced to move within their borders by 2050 through the effects of climate change if rising temperatures are not curtailed. However, this crisis can be in part averted if countries commit to lowering emissions. Another step to lessen the humanitarian disaster that would result would be to embed climate migration into development planning.

This article was in part based on this article and newsletter from the Wilson Centre.

Photo credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/ Maria Olsen/Flickr