Obama: Climate change could cause a refugee crisis that's 'unprecedented in human history'

Climate change is not only leading to global rising temperatures, it’s also displacing millions of people from their homes.

According to former President Barack Obama, if we don’t mitigate greenhouse gas emissions soon, climate change will likely result in a global refugee crisis.

“If you think about monsoon patterns in the Indian subcontinent, maybe half a billion people rely on traditional rain patterns in those areas,” he said at Seeds and Chips, a global food innovation summit in Italy, on May 9. “If those rain patterns change, then you could see hundreds of millions of people who suddenly find themselves unable to feed themselves, because they’re already at subsistence levels. The amount of migration — the number of refugees that could result from something like that — would be unprecedented in human history.”

Regions — from the US to Southeast Asia — are already seeing the effects of climate change, including sea level rise, drought, and sinking land. All of these factors can displace people from their homes, and make it difficult to grow food on top of that.

Every year since 2008, an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related hazards, like floods, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperature, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Cyclone Komen and monsoon floods in Myanmar and India displaced 1.6 million and 1.2 million people respectively in 2015, and many travelled to European or neighbouring Asian countries.

In January, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development granted $US1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, by building stronger dams and drainage systems. One of those grants was the first allocation of federal tax money to move an entire community, Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, due to climate change. They are known as the first climate refugees in the US.

Obama is confident that nations can adapt to climate change, especially if they put key policy measures in place, like instituting fuel efficiency standards and devoting more resources toward renewable energy sources.

“None of this is impossible … Not any part of the world has to be content being in perpetual poverty and hunger,” he said. “These are problems that were caused by man and can be solved by man.”

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