Migration and Displacement Risks Due to Mean Sea-level Rise

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“As climate impacts increase so will the difficulty and cost of eradicating poverty” (Roome.J, 2015). Climate action is number thirteen of the sustainable development goals. Climate impacts are affecting people and their property in developed and developing countries making it a salient challenge to development, environmental development.

Climate change is occurring and worsening. Impacts include extreme weather, droughts and floods which have resulted in economic losses that impact people and livelihoods. There are many other detrimental impacts such as alterations of ecosystems, disruption of food production, damage to infrastructure, morbidity and mortality (Oxfam,2017). For countries at all levels of development these impacts are consistent with significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors (IPCC, 2014). The SED report has stated that at 0.8 degrees Celsius warming, climate change poses severe challenges to populations beyond the current adaptive capacities of many people. (Climate Analytics, 2015). Contrary to Donald Trump who believes “Climate change is just a very…very expensive form of tax”(2015), without climate resilient development, climate change could force more than one hundred million into extreme poverty by 2030 (Hallegatte et al, 2016).

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One key climate impact is displacement. Based on an analysis of data on new displacements over the period 2008 to 2016, people in low- and lower-middle-income countries were around five times more likely than people in high-income countries to be displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather disasters (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre(IDMC), 2016). Moving as a result of climate related disasters is devasting, especially because the world has the potential to take climate action and prevent these disasters from worsening or becoming more frequent which in return could reduce the displacement due to climate impacts. Globally, people are twice as likely to be displaced by disasters now than they were in the 1970s (Ginnetti et al., 2015). Of the 24.2 million people newly internally displaced by sudden-onset disasters in 2016, 23.5 million were displaced by weather-related disasters, including storms and floods (IDMC, 2016). This is more than three times the number of people newly displaced by conflict and violence (GRID, 2017). This number of displacement due to climate impacts is expected to increase if resilience to climate impacts and tackling climate change does not occur. It is necessary to guarantee rights, status and protection for people who are forced to move by the impacts of climate change – both those who are internally displaced and those who have to move across borders.

As global temperatures are rising, the ice caps are melting resulting in rising sea levels. By one estimate, in the long term, sea-level rise resulting from 2°C of warming could submerge land that is currently home to 280 million people globally (Strauss et al., 2015). 100 million people are thought to be at risk in just four countries: China, Bangladesh, Egypt and Nigeria (Lynass.M, 2004). Based on the proportion of the population likely to be affected, some island nations have a much higher level of risk (Oxfam, 2017). The worlds atoll nations are threatened by sea level like Tuvalu and Kiribati (Orrin.H.P, 2011). These case studies show how sea levels rising over climate change has caused extensive displacement. Kiribati is a Pacific Island which lies less than three metres above sea level making it one of the most vulnerable places to the impacts of climate change. Rising seas and higher storm surges are inundating the land on which communities depend for their food. Without food security the people of Kiribati tend to move in order to make a livelihood somewhere else. However not everyone in Kiribati is quick to move so easily. Displacement is a sensitive topic on the island where communities and government officials alike are adamant that relocation is an option of last resort, and that they intend to do everything possible to remain (Oxfam, 2017). They don’t want to leave their home, a place they’re familiar with, where their ancestors and families all once lived. ‘My message to the world is to look at us. What our culture is like. How we are so proud of being Kiribati.

The main message is to limit warming to 1.5°C. That was already agreed, but now they have to live up to their words’ (Tinaai Teaua, Kiribati Climate Action Network, 2017 ). Tuvalu is another Pacific Island that have strong feelings to displacement like the people of Kiribati. They are victims of climate impacts that has occurred which wasn’t their fault to begin with. Tuvaluans do produce greenhouse gas emissions however very little in comparison to the average Briton who produces twenty times more, for example, and the average Australian thirty times more (Lynass.M, 2004). Like many Pacific Island countries, Kiribati and Tuvalu continue to face considerable challenges in accessing international climate finance and support for adaptation, due to the complex and bureaucratic nature of funding arrangements (Curtain et al., 2016). Mostly because of the many Global warming sceptics out there. Radio Australia told its listeners that fears of sea level rise around Tuvalu ‘are not supported by scientific data’ (NTF, 2002).

Kiribati and Tuvalu are focusing on minimising the climate impacts and risk of displacement but need help from across to seas to intervene. Former Kiribati President Anote Tong began implementing policies to ensure that those who are ultimately forced to move can migrate with dignity. A 2016 report by the Australian National University and the World Bank proposed an ‘Australia–New Zealand Atoll Access Agreement’ that would provide open labour market access to Kiribati (Curtain et al., 2016). In an act of regional solidarity, the Fiji government has assured the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu of the option to settle permanently in Fiji should they be forced to move (Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, 2017). Although this strategy seems like a reasonable solution to this challenge of development, Fiji also has its own problems with displacement. A storm caused by Cyclone Winston affected approximately 540,000 people in Fiji – 62 percent of the population (Government of Fiji, 2016). Despite an emphasis on ‘building back safer’ and increased attention to protection needs in the country, several thousand people in the worst affected areas were still living in tents or temporary shelters a year later (Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID), 2017). So, while migrating the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu to Fiji is a good temporary problem to displacement, they are still at a risk of being displaced again if the cause of the issue is not tackled.

Responding to displacement in the context of climate change requires an integrated global agenda that aims to minimize displacement, uphold the rights of people on the move, and support strategies for ensuring the safe and dignified movement for those who may be forced to move in the future (Oxfam, 2017). In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants which is a broad set of commitments to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants (United Nations, 2015). In adopting the Paris Agreement, Parties agreed to establish a Task Force under the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) to ‘develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change’ reference. The Task Force will present its recommendations at COP24 in 2018. Platform on Disaster Displacement is also set up to continue the work of Nansen Initiative towards a protection agenda for those displaced across borders by climate change and disasters. There are also regional initiatives like enhancing labour mobility agreements between Australia/New Zealand and Pacific Island countries (Curtain et al., 2016). And national responses when, for example, the Fiji government has worked closely with communities to create a plan for relocation for villages affected by sea-level rise (Edwards.J, 2016). The Human Rights Council is undertaking work to ensure that climate change is appropriately addressed in the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and to support the work of the WIM Taskforce on Displacement. This includes hosting discussions with a wide range of stakeholders and undertaking a study in early 2018 to support the process of the Global Compact and the WIM Taskforce on Displacement.

In conclusion, forced displacement due to climate change is a global problem and a burden to development. Focusing on minimising displacement by addressing the root causes of climate change and enabling communities to build resilience to the impacts would help this challenge to development. The case studies above are only few of many that occur every day. Action against climate change is essential. This demands that developed countries immediately step up action to cut global climate pollution, in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C. It is also essential that the world understands the benefits of strong climate action for development, livelihoods and reducing inequality. Failing to recognise this as a barrier to development will have consequences including more climate impacts like drought and floods leading to more of the population being displaced.


  1. Strauss.B , Kulp.S, Levermann.A (2015). Mapping Choices: Carbon, Climate and Rising Seas – Our Global Legacy. Climate Central. http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/uploads/research/Global-Mapping-Choices-Report.pdf
  2. Climate Analytics, 1.5°C risks and feasibility,2015.
  3. Curtain.R, Dornan.M, Doyle.J, Howes.S (2016). Pacific Possible: Labour Mobility – The Ten Billion Dollar Prize. Australia National University and the World Bank. http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/555421468204932199/pdf/labour-mobility-pacific-possible.pdf
  4. Edwards.J (2016). A Story of Relocation and Rising Sea Levels: Vunidogoloa Village, Vanua Levu, Fiji. Global Ministries. http://www.umcmission.org/find-resources/new-worldoutlook-magazine/2016/may/june/0614risingsealevels
  5. Ginnetti.J, Franck.T (2014). Assessing Drought Displacement Risk for Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali Pastoralists. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council. http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/publications/2014/201405-horn-of-africa-technicalreport-en.pdf
  6. Government of Fiji (2016). Fiji Post-Disaster Needs Assessment: Tropical Cyclone Winston. http://reliefweb.int/report/fiji/fiji-post-disaster-needs-assessment-may-2016-tropical-cyclonewinston-february- 20-2016
  7. Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID) 2017. Op. cit. http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2017/pdfs/2017-GRID.pdf
  8. Hallegatte.S, Bangalore.M, Bonzangio.L, Fay.M, Kane.T. 2016. Shockwaves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty. Washinton D.C, World Bank.
  9. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s dataset for Disaster-Related New Displacements in 2016. http://www.internal-displacement.org/database/


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Migration And Displacement Risks Due To Mean Sea-level Rise. (2022, Apr 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/migration-and-displacement-risks-due-to-mean-sea-level-rise/