Climate change could displace 216 million people by 2050

As the effects of climate change continue to worsen over the coming decades, an estimated 216 million people will be forced to migrate from their homes by the year 2050, according to an analysis released Monday by the World Bank.

In the latest Groundswell report, the authors relied on computer modeling to examine the number of people who would seek new places to live within their home countries due to the consequences of rising global temperatures. The report found that the developing world would be hardest hit in the coming years, with as many as 86 million “climate migrants” in sub-Saharan Africa, 49 million in East Asia and the Pacific, 40 million in South Asia, 19 million in North Africa, 17 million in Latin America and 5 million across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

A man wades through a flooded street with his bicycle after a heavy rainfall in Kolkata, India, in July.
A flooded street after a heavy rainfall in Kolkata, India, in July. (Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest — those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” Juergen Voegele, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, said in a statement. “All these issues are fundamentally connected, which is why our support to countries is positioned to deliver on climate and development objectives together while building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future.”

The findings, which did not examine cross-border migration, come amid a summer of unrelenting extreme weather events that have served to emphasize the scope of the problem that climate change poses for humanity. Numerous studies have linked those events to rising global temperatures, including record-setting heat waves and extreme drought across much of the West, a fire season that continues to scorch states like California, Oregon and Nevada, and deadly and recurring flash flooding that has plagued the U.S. Midwest, South and East.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted between July 30 and Aug. 2 found that a clear majority of Americans (55 percent) say they have noticed more extreme weather events where they live (heat waves, fires, storms, etc.), while just 37 percent say they have not. Of those who have noticed extreme weather in their area, a full 15 percent say they are considering the drastic step of moving elsewhere because of it.

In its latest dire assessment, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that concerted global action is necessary to avert a future in which extreme weather disasters are commonplace.

A woman holds a dog in her arms as forest fires approach the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece's second-largest island, on Aug. 8.
A woman holds a dog in her arms as forest fires approach the village of Pefki on Evia island, Greece, on Aug. 8. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images)

“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement accompanying the IPCC report. “The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close.”

While the World Bank found that “hot spots of internal climate migration” could begin to emerge as early as 2030, the report also noted that if world governments were to quickly take concerted action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the scale of displacement could be reduced “by as much as 80 percent.”

Yet even in the best-case scenario, with world governments setting themselves on a path to dramatically reduce emissions, the report estimated that 44 million people could be forced from their homes by 2050 due to the consequences of global warming that the world has already undergone.

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