Climate Displacement

The Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement was established at Refugees International in August 2009 thanks to a generous financial contribution made by Ken & Darcy Bacon just before Mr. Bacon’s death. The Center works to enhance understanding of the complex relationship between environmental degradation, natural disasters, climate change, and displacement, and to address the shortcomings in related legal, policy, and institutional frameworks. In assisting populations experiencing or at risk of climate-induced displacement, we have found that vulnerability to climate change is a function of a country’s exposure to natural hazards such as floods, storms and droughts as well as underlying factors such as poverty, social injustice and weak government capacity to respond. Thus, most at risk are not only the world’s poorest countries – such as Haiti and Bangladesh – but also its most conflict prone including Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Advocating for a more effective response to climate displacement is linked to other priority issues for RI, including strengthening the humanitarian response to natural disasters and UN peacekeeping efforts, improving the global response to neglected crises and internal displacement, and achieving citizenship for stateless people.

Today, more and more people are being forced from their homes by weather-related disasters, environmental degradation and changing climactic conditions. Over the past several decades, natural disasters have increased in force and frequency and are responsible for displacing over 36 million people in 2008 alone. In addition, growing water scarcity, desertification, and decreased agricultural output are causing more people to migrate to support livelihoods. Access to scarce natural resources has the potential to exacerbate conflict. The war in Darfur, for example, resulted partly from conflict over arable land that has diminished as the desert expands. In the future, climate change will increasingly harm some of the world’s most vulnerable populations through greater weather variability, water scarcity, and severe environmental degradation. 

The most dramatic impacts of climate-induced displacement, such as the complete submersion of island states like the Maldives, are many decades in the future. But today, increased displacement due to more frequent large-scale natural disasters is challenging an already stressed international humanitarian system. As recent floods, storms, and droughts have showed, the current system is ill-prepared to effectively respond.

To learn more about the Bacon Center, watch RI's short film, "Living on the Edge of Disaster: Climate's Human Cost."