Population growth, migration and climate change

Written by  //  June 1, 2012  //  Population  //  2 Comments

Forced Migration Online
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund
Making data dance

(The Economist) Hans Rosling has become an online star by using data visualisations to make serious points about health policy and development
“THE biggest myth is that if we save all the poor kids, we will destroy the planet,” says Hans Rosling, a doctor and professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. “But you can’t stop population growth by letting poor children die.” He has the computerised graphs to prove it: colourful visuals with circles that swarm, swell and shrink like living creatures.
Hans Rosling TED talk on child health and mortality


UNHCR forecasts a global jump in refugees
The number of displaced people worldwide is expected to increase in the coming decade not only because of conflict, but as a result of overpopulation, food shortages and natural disasters brought on by climate change, according to a report published Thursday by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Last year marked the highest numbers of refugees in more than a decade. CBS News/The Associated Press (6/1)


31 October
A crowded world’s population hits 7 billion
(Reuters) With the world’s population more than doubling over the last half century, basics like food and water are under more strain than ever, say experts, and providing for an additional 2-3 billion people in the next 50 years is a serious worry.
Water usage is set to increase by 50 percent between 2007 and 2025 in developing nations, while food security remains a challenge with 925 million people going hungry.
To feed the two billion more mouths predicted by 2050, food production will have to increase by 70 percent, the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organisation says. But climate change may be the greatest impediment to meeting this target, say experts.
Growing numbers of people on earth is also resulting in rapid urbanisation, placing serious strains on towns and cities as migrants move from poor rural areas to richer urban centres.
28 October
7 billion? Hold the celebrations!
More than one commentator has declared that we should “pop the champagne.” But as much as we should revere human life, this milestone is more cause for concern than celebration.
(Chicago Tribune) In the 12 years that have passed since world population reached 6 billion, a lot has changed. In 1999, decades of rising stock values, declining commodity prices, rising incomes and continued progress in the fights against hunger and severe poverty led many to believe that there were no limits to growth. Confidence was high that we could virtually eliminate hunger and severe poverty, and while only modest progress had been made in reining in greenhouse gas emissions, it was hoped that the world would act in time to avert some of the worst effects of climate change.
Today, after a decade of economic turbulence, rising commodity prices and setbacks in the fight against hunger and severe poverty, profound questions are being raised about humanity’s future. We may not be facing a doomsday scenario, but the march of progress seems less assured than it did in 1999. The challenges now posed by climate change and resource scarcity raise legitimate questions about the capacity of Earth to meet the needs of a growing population.
27 October
World’s Population Teeters on the Edge of 7 Billion: Now What?
(PBS NewsHour) In partnership with the Pulitzer Center and National Geographic, the PBS NewsHour explores how the composition of our society is changing as the world population reaches 7 billion. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the population milestone with the U.N. Population Fund’s Azza Karam and National Geographic magazine’s Dennis Dimick.  World Population to Hit Milestone With Birth of 7 Billionth Person — Independent Television News’ Lawrence McGinty reports on what this means for people and the planet.
The world at seven billion
(BBC) As the world population reaches seven billion people, the BBC’s Mike Gallagher asks whether efforts to control population have been, as some critics claim, a form of authoritarian control over the world’s poorest citizens. See also Where do you fit into 7 billion?
19 October
Climate change migration warning issued through report
(BBC) The Migration and Global Environmental Change Foresight Report is the most detailed study carried out on the effect of flooding, drought and rising sea levels on human migration patterns over the next 50 years.
The government’s chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, who commissioned the study, said that environmental change would hit the world’s poorest the hardest and that millions of them would inadvertently migrate toward, rather than away from, areas that are most vulnerable.
One of the reasons the report was commissioned was to examine concerns that the environmental degradation caused by climate change would lead to millions of so-called climate refugees abandoning sterile farmland and migrating to countries less affected by the problem.
Detailed analysis commissioned specifically for the study found that this was unlikely to be the case. Three-quarters of the migration, it says would be within national borders – predominantly from rural to urban areas.
Managing a growing global population
With the global population about to hit 7 billion and the most conservative growth projections putting numbers at 9 billion by 2050, now is the time to consider policies that will promote development and avoid conflict over resources. Increasing populations in areas without effective policies may endanger societies’ economic growth and local ecosystems. Financial Times (tiered subscription model) (9/23)
Ban: Climate change evidence is “lapping at our feet”
The small island nations of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands are “on the front line” of climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today during a visit, emphasizing that the threats of rising sea levels are literally “lapping at our feet.” Some villagers in Kiribati have been forced to relocate because the ocean has encroached on their land. Google/Agence France-Presse (9/5)
Climate change prompts migrations, study says
A study suggests that animal and plant species are adapting to a warming planet by relocating — in some cases, up to three times faster than previously thought. “These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the equator at around 20 centimeters per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year” over the past 40 years, said Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at Britain’s York University, who led the research. The Guardian (London) (8/18)
Developing countries drive population growth
The birth of the world’s 7 billionth person, expected this fall, has cast a spotlight on the dynamics of global population growth, which statistics show is literally comprised of two different worlds. “The less-developed regions of the world are and will be responsible for nearly all the global population growth for the next four decades,” says demographer David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health. NPR.org/Shots blog (7/29)
UN: How to handle populations displaced by climate change
People displaced by floods, droughts or storms need types of assistance that are different from those provided to people displaced by conflict or political oppression, said Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. For instance, it does not make sense to set up camps with distinct medical and water services for those who move because of crop failure because it is unlikely they would cross a border, but simply move to an urban area within the same country. Reuters (6/6)
11 May
Achim Steiner: Climate migration will not wait for scientific certainty on global warming
(The Guardian) Imagine if the world acted only when 100% scientific proof was in place.
We would still be insulating buildings with cancer-causing asbestos and fuelling cars with lead additives, damaging babies’ brains. The circulation in fridges would also be done by chemicals that, by thinning the Earth’s protective ozone layer, would probably have led to a sharp increase in cases of skin cancer worldwide.
But this is not happening. In those cases, governments assessed the emerging science, consulted on the risks and accepted that the evidence outweighed the uncertainties.
Internationally, it is called the precautionary approach: you and I might call it acting responsibly, prudently or just being smart.
Climate change perhaps triggers some of the most polarised debate between precaution and those who say that without scientific perfection it is all just hot air.
This has re-surfaced in recent weeks over the issue of climate change and migration.
It has been sparked by a map, produced by a Unep-collaborating centre in Norway, overlapping vulnerable areas of the globe and forecasts of climate impacts.
The map was linked to scientific projections, made in 2005, suggesting there might be 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010.


Climate change creates a new refugee class
Millions of climate refugees are already on the move as changing weather patterns bring an end to traditional farming, fishing and herding lifestyles. In Africa’s Sahel region, the increasing inability to coax food from the soil has left 50% of the population grappling with chronic malnutrition and led thousands of families to pack their meager belongings and move elsewhere. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (12/19)
2 September
In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement
This report explores how environmental shocks and stresses, especially those related to climate change, can push people to leave their homes in search of ‘greener pastures’… or just to survive. This report offers: empirical evidence from a first-time, multi-continent survey of environmental change and migration; original maps illustrating how, and where, the impacts of climate change may prompt significant displacement and migration; policy recommendations that reflect the collective thinking of key multi-lateral and research institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations working directly with many of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
August 2010
A world too full of people
Politicians of western countries avoid talking about population control, but if we invest in family planning we might just save our planet.
(New Statesman) It is predicted that, if the global population continues to grow at the present rate, the world will need the resources of a second earth to sustain it by 2050. Today, there are 6.9 billion people on the planet; in 40 years, this figure will reach 9.2 billion. Most political leaders, however, are reluctant to examine the matter. The term “population control” has connotations too sinister for many, even though it can simply mean sensible family planning.
It is estimated that nearly 40 per cent of all pregnancies around the world are unintended; addressing this could make a vital difference. Research from the Optimum Population Trust, whose patrons include the environmentalists David Attenborough, James Lovelock and Jonathon Porritt, suggests that, for every $7 (£4.50) spent on basic family planning services over the next 40 years, global CO2 emissions could be reduced by more than a tonne. It would cost a minimum of $32 (£20.50) to achieve the same result with low-carbon technologies.
Between now and 2050, meeting the world’s family planning needs could save up to 34 gigatonnes of CO2 – nearly 60 times the UK’s annual total. As Unicef reported as far back as 1992: “Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology available to the human race.”
This hasn’t escaped the notice of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), whose latest State of World Population report – written by Engelman – revealed that there are more than 215 million women across the world wanting but unable to get contraception. The logic goes that if more resources were poured into fixing this, fewer unwanted babies would be born – and it would be better both for the women involved and for mankind as a whole, because it would lead to lower carbon emissions.
4 January 2010
Environmental Refugees Unable to Return Home
Migration experts say millions of people in the developing world could be on the move because of worsening climate change.
Natural calamities have plagued humanity for generations. But with the prospect of worsening climate conditions over the next few decades, experts on migration say tens of millions more people in the developing world could be on the move because of disasters.
Rather than seeking a new life elsewhere in a mass international “climate migration,” as some analysts had once predicted, many of these migrants are now expected to move to nearby megacities in their own countries.
“Environmental refugees have lost everything,” said Rabab Fatima, the South Asia representative of the International Organization for Migration. “They don’t have the money to make a big move. They move to the next village, the next town and eventually to a city.”
Such rapid and unplanned urbanization is expected to put even further strains on scarce water, energy and food resources, said Koko Warner, who works in environmental migration at the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn.
1 billionth person born in Africa
Though census data are patchy, the UN estimates that in 2009, Africa’s population reached 1 billion. The UN further estimates the population will nearly double by 2050, a massive boom that could represent an unbearable burden on food, health care and other resources — unless rising urbanization and education grow to meet the demands of a young population. The Guardian (London) (12/28)
9 December
The world’s first climate change refugees
The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands do not relish their new-found notoriety.
(The Telegraph UK) As more new homes are built on the island of Buka, a part of Papua New Guinea, so more islanders will be asked to move by that country’s government. Many, particularly the elderly, do not wish to do so, but a diminishing food supply means that even they may soon have to abandon their homes. One forecast suggests the Carterets could be uninhabitable by 2015, the first of many island chains and island nations that will fall victim to polar melting and the thermal expansion of the ocean.
3 December
Indian archipelago is sinking
(Reuters video report) Rising sea level threatens Indian Archipelago inhabitants.
Women’s rights key to climate change — and vice versa
Noting that women must work harder to care for food and hygiene as global temperatures rise, UN Population Fund Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said women must play a greater role in forging an agreement on climate change. Improving education and health care access for women — especially within developing countries — will help to control population growth and increased strain on limited resources. Experts observe that women’s participation can ensure creative solutions to problems that weigh most heavily on women within a given community. The Christian Science Monitor (11/24)
About 700 million want to migrate

Sixteen percent of the world’s adult population — around 700 million people – want to move to another country, according to a poll by Gallup. People in sub-Saharan Africa are most likely to want to leave their home country, and the United States and Canada are the most desired destinations. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (11/3)
16 October
Lawyers Call for Changes in International Law to Help ‘Climate Exiles’
(CNSNews.com) – International law dealing with refugees should be amended to cover people affected by disasters attributed to climate change, environmental lawyers are arguing.
With the United Nations and others predicting upward of 200 million people being displaced by 2050 as a result of environmental changes, the London-based Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) says they will need help dealing with “statelessness and compensation.”
“International refugee law focuses on those who are persecuted for political, racial or religious reasons,” the organization’s director, Joy Hyvarinen, said in a statement Thursday. “It was not designed for those who are left homeless by environmental pressures.”
29 September
George Monbiot: The Population Myth
People who claim that population growth is the big environmental issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor
A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world’s population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three per cent of the world’s population growth happened in places with very low emissions.
4 August
75 Million Environmental Refugees to Plague Asia-Pacific
SYDNEY (IPS) – Pacific Islanders, aiming to secure their very survival, are calling for immediate commitments from the developed world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 percent by 2020.Climate change could produce eight million refugees in the Pacific Islands, along with 75 million refugees in the Asia Pacific region in the next 40 years, warns a new report by aid agency, Oxfam Australia.The report points out that “For countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau, the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia, climate change is not something that could happen in the future but something they are experiencing now.” [It] documents how people are coping with more frequent flooding and storm surges, losing land and being forced from their homes, facing increased food and water shortages, and dealing with rising incidence of malaria and dengue.
11 July, World Population Day
(IPS) The world’s population is growing at a pace of some 76 million people per year (UNFPA), and problems are growing with it. The ever-increasing demand on the earth’s finite natural resources makes it difficult for many to live even at subsistence levels. In the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) the population is expected to triple by 2050. The world’s population is also changing as a result of ageing, high mortality rates from HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases, refugee movements and migration. According to UN-Habitat, the United Nations Programme for Human Settlements, one-third of the globe’s urban dwellers live in slums or are homeless. Women and minority groups such as indigenous peoples, among others, face marginalisation and discrimination. Family planning and the promotion of sexual and reproductive health have never been more important in rendering local, regional and national population strategies effective.
25 June
A new (under) class of travellers
Victims of a warming world may be caught in a bureaucratic limbo unless things are done to ease—and better still, pre-empt—their travails
(The Economist) The International Organisation for Migration thinks there will be 200m climate-change migrants by 2050, when the world’s population is set to peak at 9 billion. Others put the total at 700m.
These startling numbers may conjure up a picture of huge, desperate masses, trekking long distances and if necessary overrunning border defences because their homelands have dried up or been submerged. But at least initially, the situation in Kenya and other parts of east Africa is likely to be more typical: an already poor population whose perpetual search for adequate pasture and shelter grows harder and harder. In such conditions, local disputes—even relatively petty ones between clans and extended families—can easily worsen, and become embroiled in broader religious or political fights. And that in turn makes it harder for everybody in the area to survive, and more desperate to find new places to live, even if they are not far away.
A new report—“In Search of Shelter”—by the United Nations University, the charity CARE and Columbia University in New York lists the eco-migration “hot spots”: dry bits of Africa; river systems in Asia; the interior and coast of Mexico and the Caribbean; and low islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
11 June
In search of shelter: mapping the effects of climate change on human migration and displacement
Report: Climate shifts will lead to mass migration
As many as 700 million people might be forced to flee their homes by 2050 as a result of global climate changes, which would make a mass migration larger than any seen in recorded history. Chief among forces that will create climate refugees is the rise of sea levels because of melting ice sheets along Greenland and Antarctica, which puts coastal communities at risk of flooding. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (6/11)
1 June
Climate-refugee problem attracts global attention

(UN Wire) Growing concerns over the fate of as many as 200 million climate refugees in the coming decades are raising the issue’s profile among international policymakers and diplomats, with the United Nations General Assembly prepared to vote on a resolution linking climate change to global security. Stark differences of opinion among countries remain on what, if any, action should be taken. New York Times, (05/28)
We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction
By Chris Hedges
(Truthdig) All efforts to stanch the effects of climate change are not going to work if we do not practice vigorous population control. Overpopulation, in times of hardship, will create as much havoc in industrialized nations as in the impoverished slums around the globe where people struggle on less than two dollars a day. Population growth is often overlooked, or at best considered a secondary issue, by many environmentalists, but it is as fundamental to our survival as reducing the emissions that are melting the polar ice caps.
All measures to thwart the degradation and destruction of our ecosystem will be useless if we do not cut population growth. By 2050, if we continue to reproduce at the current rate, the planet will have between 8 billion and 10 billion people, according to a recent U.N. forecast. This is a 50 percent increase. And yet government-commissioned reviews, such as the Stern report in Britain, do not mention the word population. Books and documentaries that deal with the climate crisis, including Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” fail to discuss the danger of population growth. This omission is odd, given that a doubling in population, even if we cut back on the use of fossil fuels, shut down all our coal-burning power plants and build seas of wind turbines, will plunge us into an age of extinction and desolation unseen since the end of the Mesozoic era, 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared.
The populations in industrialized nations maintain their lifestyles because they have the military and economic power to consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. The United States alone gobbles up about 25 percent of the oil produced in the world each year. These nations view their stable or even zero growth birthrates as sufficient. It has been left to developing countries to cope with the emergent population crisis. India, Egypt, South Africa, Iran, Indonesia, Cuba and China, whose one-child policy has prevented the addition of 400 million people, have all tried to institute population control measures. But on most of the planet, population growth is exploding. The U.N. estimates that 200 million women worldwide do not have access to contraception. The population of the Persian Gulf states, along with the Israeli-occupied territories, will double in two decades, a rise that will ominously coincide with precipitous peak oil declines.
The overpopulated regions of the globe will ravage their local environments, cutting down rainforests and the few remaining wilderness areas, in a desperate bid to grow food. And the depletion and destruction of resources will eventually create an overpopulation problem in industrialized nations as well. The resources that industrialized nations consider their birthright will become harder and more expensive to obtain. Rising water levels on coastlines, which may submerge coastal nations such as Bangladesh, will disrupt agriculture and displace millions, who will attempt to flee to areas on the planet where life is still possible. The rising temperatures and droughts have already begun to destroy crop lands in Africa, Australia, Texas and California. The effects of this devastation will first be felt in places like Bangladesh, but will soon spread within our borders. Footprint data suggests that, based on current lifestyles, the sustainable population of the United Kingdom—the number of people the country could feed, fuel and support from its own biological capacity—is about 18 million. This means that in an age of extreme scarcity, some 43 million people in Great Britain would not be able to survive. Overpopulation will become a serious threat to the viability of many industrialized states the instant the cheap consumption of the world’s resources can no longer be maintained. This moment may be closer than we think.
A world where 8 billion to 10 billion people are competing for diminishing resources will not be peaceful. The industrialized nations will, as we have done in Iraq, turn to their militaries to ensure a steady supply of fossil fuels, minerals and other nonrenewable resources in the vain effort to sustain a lifestyle that will, in the end, be unsustainable. The collapse of industrial farming, which is made possible only with cheap oil, will lead to an increase in famine, disease and starvation. And the reaction of those on the bottom will be the low-tech tactic of terrorism and war. Perhaps the chaos and bloodshed will be so massive that overpopulation will be solved through violence, but this is hardly a comfort.

May 2007
Human tide: the real migration crisis

2 Comments on "Population growth, migration and climate change"

  1. maria March 18, 2010 at 12:09 am ·

    In Kiribati sea level rising is the main threat for the locals who lived nearby the coastal areas. It has been reported by some of my relatives who lived in Kiribati that people are suffering from the topping of the sea and when they start to move to the inner land it is just about a stone throw from their previous place. So I would like then to suggest that if the policy of migration towards climate change is the best solution then it is very important to take an approach of the participatory development since the locals are very important in determining their futures and to make the policy more sustainable. Policies and strategies to deal with climate change should not be seen as separate if they are to be effective. From using the participatory approach crises will be minimized, conflicts avoided, and countries can benefit.

  2. Dolores November 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm ·

    While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.

    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.

    At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.
    According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock. Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.

    “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. Rosemary Rayfuse from the University of New South Wales argued that “a solution to the ‘disappearing state’ dilemma is suggested through adoption of a positive rule freezing baselines and through recognition of the category of ‘deterritorialised state’. It is concluded that the articulation of new rules of international law may be needed to provide stability, certainty and a future to disappearing states”.

    Source: “Global Warming is Real”, http://www.sciencedaily.com nt here.

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