Climate change is driving migration, mainly inside nations

Growing numbers of people around the world, most of them poor, are being uprooted from their homes due to climate change.

But migration can be a sensible way to adapt to the effects of global warming if managed carefully and supported by sound development policies and investments, experts say.

Last year, more than 40 million people were uprooted due to conflict and disasters, the highest figure in 10 years, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Disasters, mostly weather-related such as storms, floods and wild fires, triggered more than three times more displacements than conflict and violence in 2020.

“Increasingly, we are seeing climate change become an engine of migration, forcing individuals, families and even whole communities to seek more viable and less vulnerable places to live,” former World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said.

If no action is taken, there will be more than 143 million internal climate migrants across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America by 2050, according to a 2018 World Bank report.

“The poorest people will be forced to move due to slow-onset climate change impacts, including decreasing crop productivity, shortage of water and rising sea level,” the report said.

But, the report added: “If we act now, we could reduce the number of people forced to move due to climate change by as much as 80%.”

Most climate change migrants move within their own countries.

Experts say that fears that climate change will drive vulnerable people seeking safety and sustenance across their borders are misplaced as the vast majority of climate migrants move within their own countries. Such fears are rife in parts of Europe, which struggled to accommodate large numbers of migrants and refugees in 2015-16.

And internal migration can be a sensible way to adapt to climate change, provided it is managed carefully and supported by appropriate development policies and targeted investments.

“Where the limits of local adaptation are anticipated, well-planned migration to more viable areas can be a successful strategy,” the Bank said.

Nowhere are the impacts of climate change felt more acutely than in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The 2018 World Bank report estimated that by 2050 there could be more than 85 million internal climate migrants in the region, 5% of the total projected population.

The triggers for climate migration are mainly water availability, decreased crop productivity and rising sea levels coupled with storm surges. Each of these climate migration drivers can have secondary and tertiary effects, including conflict over resources, increased poverty and famine, and long-term environmental degradation.

Many African nations depend on Lake Chad, the Nile.

One of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters is centered on the Lake Chad Basin, which borders Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon in West Africa.

Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s. Around 30 million people in the region depend on the lake for their livelihoods in agriculture, fish and livestock. The resource depletion has exacerbated conflicts over resources in the region and displaced more three million people, leaving some 12.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

One of the most complex river basins in the world, the Nile River runs through 11 countries and supports about 40% of Africa’s population.

Longer droughts, rising populations and a siphoning off of resources via a large dam in Ethiopia may soon contribute to conflicts over water and its natural resources downstream in Egypt, potentially putting millions of people at risk of poverty and starvation.

Last year, rainfall in Ethiopia was less than expected, resulting in a decline in the production of milk, which is an important source of nutrition in the region. The UN estimates that 12.9 million people in the region risk food insecurity due to the drop in rainfall.

Cities have a critical role to play.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an African think tank based in South Africa, offers a series of conclusions and recommendations.

First, it is important to recognize that the most vulnerable people seldom have the resources to migrate in response to climate change, with potentially dire consequences that require local, national and international responses.

Second, although climate change is an increasingly important driver of migration in Africa, it triggers far more movement within a country than it does internationally.

Consequently, the hardest hit countries should include climate resiliency plans in their rural and urban development planning, allowing migrants to move safely to places that can accommodate them.

Cities, according to the ISS, have a critical role to play.

Climate migrants are increasingly moving to urban centers for non-agricultural income. Those urban areas susceptible to the effects of climate change should prepare for an exodus of citizens, while those in more resilient locations should plan to receive migrants.

Over-populated and under-resourced cities can be ill-prepared to accommodate the influx of migrants, and secondary cities in areas largely spared the effects of climate change can be better options.

“Movement is a critical resilience strategy for communities and individuals faced with climate change,” the ISS said. “Migration is an important adaptation strategy that should be enabled.”

“Voluntary or planned migration is a much better option for all involved than forced displacement,” it concluded.

This story, published by News Decoder, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters.

Cape Town, Lima offer examples for water-deprived San Diego

San Diego is one of several cities in Southern California facing water shortages that could learn from unusual efforts in South Africa and Peru to keep the taps flowing despite chronic shortfalls in water supplies.

Three-quarters of the water in the most populous U.S. state originates in the northern third of the state, while 75% of the state’s demand for water comes from cities, including San Diego and Los Angeles, in the southern two-thirds of the state, according to the University of California’s Water Economics Department.

San Diego, which is near the Mexican border and has an arid climate, receives on average 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain every year and imports approximately 85-90% of its water from either Northern California or the Colorado River.

With a growing population and global warming, the city is all but certain to face growing strains on its water security.

There are other cities around the world that struggle to deliver enough water to residents. It can be because of an arid climate exacerbated by climate change (Melbourne), inadequate infrastructure (Mexico City), a rapidly growing population or a combination of all three.

Cape Town, South Africa and Lima, Peru offer instructive and innovative examples for San Diego and other cities lacking adequate water supplies.

Cape Town adjusted to water insecurity.

Located in an arid region like San Diego, Cape Town almost ran out of water in 2017-18. As early as 2007, authorities had warned of possible shortages. But the city failed to increase water supplies during abundant rains that preceded a drought, and by 2017, officials feared “Day Zero” when all taps would run dry.

To stave off disaster, starting in early 2018, the South African government imposed draconian water rations, limiting each individual to no more than 50 liters (13 gallons) a day. To put that into context, an American uses on average about 303 liters (80 gallons) per day.

As Cape Town citizens adjusted to the realities of water insecurity, they began to grasp just how much water their daily appliances used. They devised new water-saving habits: plastic cutlery replaced traditional forks and knives, food was grilled instead of boiled and water from washing the dishes or doing laundry was used for flushing the toilet.

The city of Cape Town encouraged behavioral change by installing water management devices, including the Dropula Meter. Meters were placed in schools to show students and faculty how much water they were using and to alert them of any leaks or excessive consumption. If a leak was found, a team was dispatched to fix the problem and limit the amount of water lost.

Water meters are especially effective among youth.

Dropula’s defenders said it worked because it showed people how much water they used every day and prompted them to find ways to cut consumption.

Thinus Booysen, the inventor of Dropula, said water meters can be particularly effective among younger people.

“Before they [students] would wash their hands without realizing it takes five liters of water to wash your hands,” Booysen said. “I realized that the schools are an easy way to influence many people. There are many children in the school. They go home and influence their parents, their siblings, and change their behavior.”

Dropula meters were installed in more than 350 South African schools and helped save more than 550 million liters of water, authorities estimate. Strong rains in 2018, coupled with restrictions on consumption, helped Cape Town dodge “Day Zero.”

San Diego is implementing its own restrictions on water consumption to save supplies.

As part of its Water Action Plan, the University of San Diego, California has installed nearly 1,000 meters that provide real-time data on water use. The meters helped the university cut water consumption by 17% in 2020.

Lima is rebuilding pre-Columbian waterways.

One of the driest capitals in the world, Lima offers another model for cities like San Diego.

Lima can receive as little as nine millimeters (0.354 inch) of rain a year, according to the Nature Conservancy, but its population of 11 million dwarfs that of San Diego or Cape Town.

Together, rapid population growth, lack of preparation, pollution and climate change mean nearly 1.5 million people living in Lima lack running water, according to the Borgen Project, a non-profit that addresses world poverty and hunger.

To address the problem, the Lima Water Authority (SEDAPAL) and non-governmental organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, have joined forces to rebuild stone waterways, called “mamanteos,” that were built during the Inca Empire and which channel water from mountains to lower altitudes.

The mamanteos capture rainfall in the Andes Mountain Range and direct it to permeable soil or rock, where it is absorbed and brought back to the underground water table. Months later, water remerges through natural springs and man-made stone pools, and is reallocated to reservoirs for later use.

Researchers at Imperial College London and the Regional Initiative for Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems in Lima estimate that a mamanteo infiltration system could increase the water flow in Lima’s Rimac River during the dry season.

“The estimated amounts can provide a critical contribution to Lima’s water supply,” the researchers said in their study, adding that increased water supplies during the dry season would benefit both local farmers and Lima residents.

A renovated mamanteo system would be more cost-effective than traditional water infrastructures like reservoirs, trans-Andean pipes or desalination plants, according to Americas Quarterly.

San Diego could invest in green infrastructure.

SEDAPAL is also working with The Nature Conservancy in creating a new tariff structure to increase funding for environmental concerns, including water scarcity.

The new regime requires utilities to invest in ecosystem services, green infrastructure and climate change adaptation. SEDAPAL dedicates 1% of its own revenue for investment into natural infrastructure, and 3.5% for investment into climate change adaptation.

“By making utilities share responsibility for water sources, not just distribution, there are now more resources for conservation,” said Hugo Contreras, director of water security for Latin America at The Nature Conservancy, adding that investment from utilities will be key in maintaining water conservation in Peru.

According to the online publication, the new water pricing structure has raised about $20 million for natural infrastructure purposes, with much of it earmarked for the restoration of mamanteos.

The initiatives in Lima are relevant to California because the state regularly pumps more water from its groundwater basins than is replaced from all sources, such as rainfall, irrigation water and streams fed by mountain runoff.

California draws about 652 billion more gallons of water from the ground than what is naturally or artificially recharged, according to the Water Education Foundation.

San Diego does not have a pre-Columbian water-harvesting system like Lima, but it could follow the Peruvian city’s example and increase water supplies by investing in green infrastructure such as rain gardens, permeable pavements and parks that would soak up rain water and direct it to underground aquifers for future use.

In such a way, San Diego could replenish groundwater that has become increasingly scarce.

This story, first published by News Decoder, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters.

It’s official: We’re to blame for the climate crisis

More than a century ago, a distant relative of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg figured out that greenhouse gases from burning coal could push up world temperatures.

On August 9, 2021, after decades amassing evidence, a United Nations panel vindicated the theories of Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius by concluding that we’re definitely to blame for heating the planet.

But why did it take so long, when Arrhenius worked out the basics in 1896? Don’t people know that fossil fuels cause global warming?

Grouping governments and hundreds of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded on Monday for the first time that it is “unequivocal” — beyond a shadow of doubt — “that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

The bleak report also said that some changes under way may be irreversible, such as sea-level rise caused by the melting of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, and that we are on track to exceed critical temperature thresholds in the period 2021-2040.

Blame for the climate crisis now falls squarely on our shoulders.

The problem in definitely linking warming to man-made greenhouse gases has been that there have always been freak storms, heatwaves, downpours and floods, allowing a sliver of doubt in previous IPCC reports about whether the main driver might be humanity or some other unknown factors in nature.

The evidence is now overwhelming, partly because there are so many off-the-chart extreme events that would be expected once every 100 or 1,000 years in a normal climate.

In 2021, for instance, scientists found that a heatwave this year in parts of Canada and the United States, with sweltering temperatures close to 50C, would have been “virtually impossible“ without humanity’s greenhouse gases.

“Our fingerprints are all over the climate system,” Ben Santer, a top climate scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, told me in an email, calling the new findings the culmination of a revolution in the science of global warming.

Santer led a chapter for a landmark IPCC report in 1995 that first, tentatively, linked mankind to climate change. The famous sentence said that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

From that moment, Santer wrote, “humans were no longer innocent bystanders in the climate system. By burning fossil fuels and increasing atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, humans were changing Earth’s climate.”

But it was not immediately embraced. “It met with the fate of other paradigm-shifting findings — it was fiercely criticized by individuals, corporations and countries who perceived that their business interests might be threatened,” he said.

Lawsuits could target fossil-fuel producers.

Now, the “unequivocal” evidence will add pressure for action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, possibly lawsuits against big emitters of greenhouse gases.

Some lawyers liken the history of the rising certainty about climate change to findings last century linking smoking to lung cancer, spurring successful billion-dollar lawsuits against tobacco companies.

There are already almost 2,000 lawsuits worldwide about climate change, often against fossil-fuel producers, 1,408 in the United States and 450 elsewhere in the world, according to a database by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Levi Draheim, 14, is among a group of young people suing the U.S. state of Florida. The lawsuit says the current fossil-fuel energy system violates young people’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.

Draheim sees some glimmers of hope, partly because of pressure from young people. “I do see hope in that so many people have been willing to take action,” he told me. “But I also know that the action so far is not enough.”

Lingering reluctance to invest in clean power.

Despite mounting evidence, many nations are reluctant to invest massively in renewable energies such as solar and wind power and abandon fossil fuels — especially OPEC oil exporters who depend on oil and gas revenues.

Many poorer countries say they need to use more energy to raise living standards and point out that rich nations have repeatedly agreed to take the lead in fighting climate change.

And the media have often wrongly over-represented the views of climate sceptics, giving a misleading sense of controversy about the causes of global warming. Sceptics like to quote ageing evidence, like a 1975 story headlined “The Cooling World” in Newsweek magazine, about signs that we were entering a chillier period.

Arrhenius was among the first scientists to lay the groundwork for the IPCC conclusions. In 1896, he wrote a study that showed how rising amounts of carbon dioxide were linked to higher temperatures. He later concluded that burning of coal could cause a “noticeable increase” in carbon levels if kept up over centuries.

Thunberg, founder of the #FridaysforFuture global climate movement by young people, is distantly related to him. Her father, Svante Thunberg, once wrote that he didn’t know the exact family relationship but that “I was named Svante (after Arrhenius) as a request from my grandparents,” who were related to Arrhenius’ mother.

Among landmarks in understanding climate change after Arrhenius, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson warned in 1965 that “this generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

‘The times are changing.’

But doubts about our responsibility are unlikely to end with the IPCC’s new findings. Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who favours jobs in the coal industry, sometimes dismissed man-made climate change as a hoax. Before winning office, he wrote on Twitter that global warming was a concept dreamt up by China to hurt U.S. industries.

“Climate denialism is still alive and well in the United States Congress. And in the U.S., the credibility of climate science is still being challenged by powerful individuals,” Santer said.

“But the times are changing. The concerning changes in extreme events — particularly heat waves, drought, floods and wildfires — are diminishing the space in which denialism can thrive,” he wrote.

Backing up that idea, one recent survey found that 24% of Americans are “alarmed” by climate change, double the proportion five years ago. Yet it also documented that sizeable minorities are still dismissive or doubtful.

Governments will have a chance to ratchet up their actions to tackle climate change at a summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, building on the 2015 Paris Agreement that seeks to limit rising temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, while pursuing efforts for 1.5C.

By the end of July, however, only 54%  of countries had submitted new or updated climate plans to the UN. Big emitters including China, India and Brazil were among those that did not meet a July deadline.

“Far from satisfactory,” UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa wrote.

Alister Doyle is a British freelance writer based in Oslo who worked with Reuters for more than three decades, including as the company’s first environment correspondent from 2004-19. He has worked in more than 50 nations, mostly in Europe and Latin America, and spent a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Knight Science Journalism fellowship from 2011-12. Among other stories, he landed with British scientists in a small plane on an Antarctic ice shelf in 2009 — weeks before it cracked up into the ocean.

This story, originally published by News Decoder, has been shared as part of World News Day 2021, a global campaign to highlight the critical role of fact-based journalism in providing trustworthy news and information in service of humanity. #JournalismMatters.