More than 25 million refugees are displaced each year by climatic disasters caused by global warming.
After 300 years of civilization on the island Barbuda, Hurricane Irma destroyed everything in its path and forced the relocation of its 1,600 inhabitants.
Ten days later, Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents without electricity and much of this country without potable water.
Climate change is a reality and so are its effects, such as climate-induced migration, one of the axes highlighted at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 23 in Bonn, also known as the world climate summit.
At least 25 million people are displaced by climate disasters each year, a figure that is expected to reach 200 million by 2050.
Although it took place in Germany, the climate summit was chaired by Fiji, which served to highlight the Pacific islands as the nations most vulnerable to climate change.
The rise in sea level and frequent storms forced thousands of people to move to other countries in order to survive.
“Climate change adds to the already existing migration problems in the world. Climate disasters force displacement of people, which must be safe, with dignity and in the fairest possible terms. The Pacific is where these problems are most seen, ”said Simon Bradshaw, climate change coordinator at the renowned NGO Oxfam.
On a global scale, sea level has already risen 20 centimeters since 1870, forcing many low-lying Pacific islands to adapt.
Some populations are moving to higher lands and others directly choose to buy land from other countries to migrate their citizens, mainly in Australia due to the proximity.
Eight of the ten countries with the highest volume of displaced people last year are in the Asia-Pacific area: China, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Floods, tropical cyclones and tsunamis caused the transfer of 12.9 million people in the region in 2016.
“Forced displacement due to climate change is not something hypothetical in the future, it is a reality that we are already experiencing in many regions of the world. While the Pacific suffers from rising seas, Africa is affected by droughts. Each country is affected in a different way, ”said Erica Bower, a climate change specialist at the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) from Germany.
Although the Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5ºC by 2100, the commitments made so far by countries are not enough and bring the number to between 3ºC and 4ºC.
That, experts agree, implies more intense and more frequent natural disasters. And therefore, greater migration problems.
That is why access to financing by the most affected countries, mostly developing, is key.
The departure of the United States from the Paris Agreement represents a challenge in this regard and will require a more active role from Europe and other regions.
In this sense, a group of developed countries is already working to assist all those displaced by the climate.
One of the most prominent cases is that of New Zealand, where the executive branch plans to create a special “humanitarian visa” to receive on their lands those most affected by climate issues.
The worrying scenario is also a new reality in legal terms, as the category of climate refugees does not yet exist.
The Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees does not recognize climatic causes as a ground for granting status.
That is why specialists in the field claim to advance new legal frameworks to support those affected.
“The serious crisis of climate migrants has to be regulated by a legal framework. If we do, it would be an important step to avoid some of the problems we are seeing. We have to accept that climate migrants exist and define what we do with them, ”said Cosmin Corendea, a legal expert on climate migration at the United Nations University.
The difficult determination to stay or emigrate is a dilemma faced by more and more people from Latin America as well.
Sea level rises, droughts threaten food production in Central America and the Caribbean, while intense sudden rains in the South cause heavy flooding.
According to UNHCR, 1.8 million people were displaced by natural disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016, representing 7.3% of all people who were forced to move due to changes in the climate.
Thus, the region could be one of the most affected globally, generating massive migrations of people, expelled from their homes and communities.
Indigenous groups are among the most affected, as in the case of Peru, where in recent years there have been great floods that destroyed crops and caused diseases.
But floods are not the only threat. Water scarcity is also affecting the region and its arable land.
In this way, the key role of Latin America as a producer of food for millions of people is being affected, experiencing, for example, severe droughts in recent years.
“We don't have to go far to see the effects of climate change on the migration of people. When certain places in Argentina become vulnerable, people will leave there and move to other parts of the country, ”said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, director of climate change at the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN). And he added: "The countries of Latin America have to get involved in these discussions."
In total, 60 of the 77 largest cities in Ibero-America are located on the coast, which puts pressure on its inhabitants due to changes in the climate.
Hurricanes and tropical storms are expected to increase in intensity in Latin America and the Caribbean, causing the loss of land on the coasts.
Such was the case in Argentina just three months ago, with eight million hectares flooded and / or flooded in the Salado Basin, which affected a third of the country's agricultural production.
Earlier, in April, more than 7,000 people had been evacuated in seven provinces due to flooding due to severe storms.
That is why one of the keys for the region is to work on adapting its cities, for example, building defenses in the coastal cities most exposed to rising sea levels.
However, planning does not tend to be long-term and only works to resolve emergencies.
“We have to advance in the discussion of climate change and migration in Latin America. It is an issue that is addressed only in emergency situations, but there is no strategic planning. The public policy process of the countries has to change based on this reality, ”said Patricia Espinosa, secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Argentina has taken the first steps in this regard. The Ministry of the Environment is already working towards the development of a National Adaptation Plan within the framework of the Climate Change Cabinet and recently presented a System of Climate Change Risk Maps, a tool that allows visualizing the regions and groups with the greatest potential to be affected by changes in climate.
"The works and activities that we are planning today require a look that can contribute to reducing risks and social vulnerability, as well as risks in investments, quality and future situations," concluded the Undersecretary of Climate Change and Development Sustainable Carlos Gentile in the presentation of the maps.
Meanwhile, the silent march of millions of climate refugees continues.
By Fermín Koop