Ecological Crises Could Displace More Than 1 Billion People by 2050: Report

The Institute of Economics and Peace put out new findings highlighting the relationship between climate change, political unrest, resource scarcity, and migration.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
September 10, 2020, 7:27pm
climate refugees
Somali refugees displaced by floods cross a swollen river in Dadaab, Garissa district in Kenya's arid northeastern province 22, November 2006. Photo by Brendan Bannon/AFP(Getty Images)

More than 1 billion people living in 31 countries around the world are at risk of mass displacement by 2050 because they can’t deal with ecological shocks, conflict, and civil unrest worsened by the climate crisis, according to a new report.

The Institute for Economics and Peace, which also publishes global peace and terrorism indexes, said the inability to manage climate disaster will also lead to worsening food insecurity, increased competition over resources, and an influx of refugees in more resilient countries.

“Over the next 30 years lack of access to food and water will only increase without urgent global cooperation,” said Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of IEP. “In the absence of action, civil unrest, riots, and conflict will most likely increase.”

The Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan and North Africa are facing the worst ecological threats globally, the report said. Nineteen countries facing some of the worst ecological crises, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan, are also some of the least peaceful countries in the world, the report found.

In Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Iran, which reportedly have the highest number of people at risk, “even small ecological threats and natural disasters” have the potential to create mass displacement.

Europe and North America will face an influx of refugees, the report said—the two areas face fewer climate crisis-related risks and are in a better position to manage those that arise. 

By 2050, about 3.5 billion people around the world could struggle with food insecurity—an almost 50 percent increase from the rate of food insecurity today, said the report. The number of people experiencing water stress will likely rise from 2.6 billion today to 5.4 billion in 2040, and considering most instances of water-related violence have taken place in Yemen and Iraq, the report said there is a connection between extreme water stress, resilience, and peacefulness. 

Only 16 countries—including Sweden, Ireland, and Iceland—are facing no ecological threats right now, the report said. 

Using data from the UN and other international bodies, the report evaluated the ability of 157 countries to withstand eight ecological shocks, such as rising temperatures, population growth, and food insecurity. 

This isn’t the first study to expose the interplay between climate change, political unrest, poverty, and migration. The U.S. Department of Defense referred to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier” because it exacerbates conflict and instability, and Stanford University found that the gap between rich and poor countries is 25 percent larger than it would have been without the climate crisis.  VICE News previously reported how climate change will create 1.5 million migrants—and no one knows where they’ll go; under international law, no country is required to welcome climate refugees.

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