Climate Refugees

2021 - A report released by ProPublica and The New York Times states that more than 30 million people from Central and South America are expected to migrate to the North America over the next 30 years due to climate change. The models in the report predict rising seas, changing rainfall, and warming temperatures will make parts of the continent unlivable and stress countries' abilities to help residents.

2021 - On January 20, the first day of Joe Biden's presidency, the U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement. The U.S. had formally withdrawn just months earlier during Donald Trump's administration.

2020 - On November 4, the U.S. formally withdraws from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a global cooperative effort to reduce the threat of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Trump administration notified the United Nations of its intention to leave the agreement one year earlier.

2019 - A study published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in May finds that by 2100, rising sea levels could create tens of millions of climate refugees from low-lying coastal areas. Previous estimates had shown that sea level would rise by no more than one meter by 2100, but, based on expert opinions, the study projects that sea levels could rise by more than twice that.

2018 - In December, the United Nations adopts the UN Global Compact for Migration, the first major migration policy to address climate change and recognize it as a driver of migration.

2018 - The World Bank reports in March that the three regions most vulnerable to climate change—Latin America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa—could see 143 million people displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050.

2017 - In May, Trump announces that the United States is withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement to cut global carbon emissions. He cites that the agreement unfairly burdens the United States, with the potential for 6.5 million U.S. job losses and a $3 trillion loss to the U.S. economy. Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, stated the move was "highly concerning for those of us that live on the frontline of climate change."

2016 - Residents of the low-lying community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana received a $48 million federal grant to relocate their community to higher ground. It is the first such relocation funded by the U.S. government in the country.

2015 - Pope Francis issues a Catholic encyclical recognizing climate-related migration and the "urgent need for world political authority" on the topic, calling specifically for legal protection for climate refugees.

2014 - Tuvaluan Sigeo Alesana and family win New Zealand residency after arguing that climate change and overpopulation make life unsustainable on their native island.

2013 - A Kiribati man's claim to climate change refugee status is found to be indefensible by New Zealand courts. Immigration and Protection Tribunals offer that it is not the climate event itself, but the social and political response to it that may be a path forward to asylum.

2013 - The village of Vunidogoloa in Fiji becomes the first to be entirely relocated under the nation's climate change program. The relocation cost the Fijian government $132,000.

2013 - 19 million people are displaced by natural disasters in Asia alone throughout the year, including 4.1 million displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

2012 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) publishes a report titled "Climate Change, Vulnerability, and Human Mobility: Perspectives of Refugees From the East and Horn of Africa," citing patterns of internal migration in the region due to changing climate patterns and shrinking resource pools.

2011 - UNHCR holds the Nansen Conference in Sweden to discuss the future of Climate Change and Displacement, focusing first on preventing climate-related displacement and second on ensuring rights for those who are displaced.

2010 - The 16th "Conference of the Parties" on Climate Change is held in Cancun, Mexico. The parties establish a Green Climate Fund meant to deliver money to developing nations for mitigation and adaptation actions.

2010 - Flooding in Pakistan affects 14 million people, killing 1,600 and displacing thousands more.

2008 - Natural disasters displace a total of 36 million people worldwide.

2005 - The Mauritius Declaration highlights building resilience to climate change in Small Island States through technology transfer and capacity-building.

2005 - Hurricane Katrina hits the U.S. Gulf Coast, killing nearly 2,000 and displacing hundreds of thousands of people over an area of 90,000 square miles.

2005 - About 100 villagers from the Lateu settlement on Vanuatu's Tegua Island are relocated 600 meters inland in response to eroding coastlines and storm surges. This is the first of many relocations according to Tuvaluan officials.

1996 - The city of Venice, Italy, floods 99 times in one year—up from an average of 40 times a decade before.

1995 - A heat wave in Chicago, Illinois peaks at a heat index of 106 degrees, killing more than 700 people in 5 days.

1995 - Bangladesh's Bhola Island is half-submerged by rising sea levels, leaving 500,000 people homeless.

1994 - The United Nations adopts the Barbados Programme of Action, which sets forth measures at the national and international level on climate change, sea-level rise, environmental disaster preparedness, and marine resource preservation.

1990 - The IPCC states in its first assessment report that the single largest consequence of climate change would be migration, with "millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, and severe drought."

1988 - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is formed to assess and report on evidence of climate change and its impacts.

1972 - The United Nations holds its first environmental conference, resulting in the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

1967 - The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is expanded in Africa and Latin America to include persons fleeing war or other violence in their home countries.

1951 - The UNHCR narrowly defines refugees as those "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or owing to such fear is unwilling to, avail himself to the protection of that country" based on the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

1949 - The International Refugee Organization (IRO) is replaced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Resolutions 319 IV). The UNHCR was intended to be a temporary operation but is still active today.

1947 - The IRO is founded by the United Nations to expand on the work of the Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

1944 - The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration is created to help millions displaced during World War II.

Leeann Sullivan
Leeann Sullivan, PhD, is visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. She earned a PhD in the human dimensions of natural resources from Colorado State University and an MA in international relations and environmental policy from Boston University. She specializes in environmental policy, natural resource conflicts, and water issues. She has worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Pardee Center for the Longer-Range Future at Boston University and she is a contributor for ABC-CLIO's Issues and Geography databases. Ms. Sullivan's writing also appears in Natural Resource Conflicts—From Blood Diamonds to Rainforest Destruction (ABC-CLIO 2016).
MLA Citation

Sullivan, Leeann. "Climate Refugees." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 16 Oct. 2021.

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