UN: Climate change will uproot millions of people, especially in Asia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The walls of Saifullah’s house in North Jakarta line up like tree rings, marking the height of floodwaters each year — more than four feet above the damp earthen floor.

When the water gets too high, Saifullah, who like many Indonesians only uses one name, sends his family to visit friends. He guards the house until the water can be drained using a makeshift pump. If the pump stops working, he uses a bucket or just waits for the water to recede.

“It’s a normal thing here,” said Saifullah, 73. “But this is our house. Where should we go?”

As the world’s fastest sinking major city, Jakarta shows how climate change is making more and more places uninhabitable. With about a third of the city expected to be submerged in the next few decades – partly due to the rising Java Sea – the Indonesian government plans to move its capital some 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) north- east of the island of Borneo, relocating up to 1.5 million civil servants.

This is a colossal undertaking and part of the massive movement of people that is expected to accelerate in the years to come.

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 143 million people are likely to be uprooted over the next 30 years by rising seas, drought, extreme temperatures and other climate disasters. released Monday by the UN.

In Asia, governments are already scrambling to deal with it.

One in three migrants in the world today comes from Asia, which leads the world in the number of people displaced by extreme weather, mainly storms and floods, according to the report. As rural villages empty out and megacities like Jakarta come under threat, scientists predict migration flows and the need for planned relocations will only grow.

“Under all levels of global warming, some regions that are currently densely populated will become unsafe or uninhabitable,” the report said.

According to one estimate, up to 40 million people in South Asia could be forced to move in the next 30 years due to lack of water, crop failures, storm surges and other disasters.

Rising temperatures are of particular concern, said Chris Field, an environmental scientist at Stanford University who chaired the UN report in previous years.

“There are relatively few places on Earth that are just too hot to live right now,” he said. “But it’s starting to look like Asia, there may be more in the future and we have to think very seriously about the implications of that.”

No nation offers asylum or other legal protections to those displaced specifically because of climate change, although the Biden administration has explored the idea.

People leave their homes for a variety of reasons, including violence and poverty, but what is happening in Bangladesh demonstrates the role climate change is also playing, said Amali Tower, who founded the organization Climate Refugees.

Scientists predict that up to 2 million people in this low-lying country could be displaced by rising seas by 2050. Already more than 2,000 migrants are arriving in its capital Dhaka every day, many of whom are fleeing the coastal towns.

“You can see the actual movement of people. You can actually see the disasters growing. It’s tangible,” Tower said.

Migration flows can be slowed if countries like the United States and European countries act now to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero, she said. Others say richer countries that produce more shows should offer humanitarian visas to people from countries that are disproportionately affected.

According to the UN report, the management of climate migrants will become a major political issue for sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America in the coming decades. Most people will move from rural areas to cities, especially in Asia where two-thirds of the population could be urban in 30 years.

“It’s basically people migrating from rural areas and probably squatting in a slum somewhere,” said Abhas Jha, the World Bank’s climate change and disaster risk management practice lead. in South Asia.

Migration doesn’t have to cause a crisis, said Vittoria Zanuso, executive director of the Migration Council of Mayors, a global group of municipal leaders.

In North Dhaka, for example, authorities are building shelters for climate migrants and improving water supplies. They are also working with smaller towns to be designated “climate havens” that welcome migrants, Zanuso said.

The influx of new labor provides small towns with an opportunity for economic growth, she said. And it prevents migrants who might flee villages threatened by rising seas from seeking refuge in a city with a scarce water supply and essentially “trading one climate risk for another”.

In the years to come, she said, it will be essential to help prepare cities for the influx of migrants: “They are on the front line”.


Watson reported from San Diego. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Teresa H. Sadler