Climate Change Could Displace 143 Million People by 2050

A new World Bank report warns that climate change could prompt a mass global migration in just a few decades. In fact, a staggering 143 million people from South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America might find themselves so badly impacted by climate change that they will have to move to a completely different region.

The slow-onset effects that will push so many “climate refugees” away from their homes include water scarcity, crop failure, rising sea levels and storm surge.

These particular regions represent 55 percent of the developing world’s population, and the 143 million people potentially affected would be 2.8 percent of the total population in these densely-populated locations.

According to the World Bank report:

The poorest and most climate vulnerable areas will be hardest hit. These trends, alongside the emergence of “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration, will have major implications for climate-sensitive sectors and for the adequacy of infrastructure and social support systems.

An estimated 17 million might relocate within Latin America, 40 million within South Asia and 86 million within Sub-Saharan Africa.

The research team responsible for this report included World Bank Lead Environmental Specialist Dr. Kanta Kumari Rigaud plus researchers and modelers from CIESIN Columbia University, CUNY Institute of Demographic Research and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The report urges action based on its four messages:

1.  The scale of internal climate migration will ramp up by 2050 and then accelerate unless concerted climate and development action is taken.

The report considered three possible climate change scenarios — pessimistic, more inclusive development and more climate-friendly. Under the pessimistic scenario, many poor, vulnerable people will be affected, due to stronger climate impacts and steep population growth in many regions. Because they have the least ability to adapt, these individuals will simply have to move away from risk — and some will be too poor to do even that.

2.  Countries can expect to see “hotspots” of climate-induced in- and out- migration. This will have significant implications for countries and future development planning.

Hotspots will include low-lying cities, coastlines vulnerable to sea level rise and areas of high water and agriculture stress. As agriculture declines due to a lack of water, the report estimates that the northern highlands of Ethiopia will see climate migrants leaving cropland areas.

We should expect to see diminished population growth in places like Dhaka in Bangladesh and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, due to storm surges and sea level rise. Addis Ababa, the biggest city in Ethiopia, will also see fewer people due to lessening rainfall.

3.  Migration can be a sensible climate change adaptation strategy if managed carefully and supported by good development policies and targeted investments.

The report urges countries that could have climate migrants to plan for them. They’ll need to “take a long-term, anticipatory approach to planning so that climate migrants are factored in to overall growth and development strategies.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Internal climate migration may be a reality, but it doesn’t have to be a crisis. Action across three major areas could help reduce the number of people forced to move in distress.

Planning and action are key right now, and the research team offered three recommendations:

  • Cut global greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate pressure on people and livelihoods, as well as to reduce the overall scale of climate migration
  • Transform development planning to factor in the entire cycle of climate migration — before, during and after migration
  • Invest in data and analysis to improve understanding of internal climate migration trends and trajectories at the national level.

“Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” team leader Dr. Rigaud explained in a World Bank press release.

“We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources. But that doesn’t have to be the future. While internal climate migration is becoming a reality, it won’t be a crisis if we plan for it now,” she added.

huts in Ethiopia

Photo credit: Thinkstock

It’s going to take careful and prompt planning to reduce the potential number of people who might have to relocate due to climate change. The world can and must act to reduce the effects of climate change.

Communities and nations should begin development planning right now to meet the needs of these newcomers before their arrival creates problems. But will we be smart enough to do something in time?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago


John P
Past Member 11 months ago

The bitter truth...

Sue H
Sue H11 months ago

Dismal. :(

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla11 months ago

Only one of the consequences of climate change :-(
Thanks for posting, sharing as well

Muff-Anne Y

They will all move to Canada because JT has given them an open invitation.

Cindy M. Dutka
Cindy M. D11 months ago

Hello...paging Donald the Disaster...are you reading this???!!!...

HEIKKI R11 months ago

thank you

Chrissie R
Chrissie R11 months ago

Thank you for posting.

RK R11 months ago

Did you know 250 million years ago 95% of all life on this planet went extinct? No one knows why with proof. Amniotes never appeared again. 65 million years ago the dinosaurs. 13,000 years ago the North American large land animals, such as the giant sloth, and large preditors like the sabertooth tiger in one giant swoosh of an exploding asteroid disappeared. Here we are believing humans are in safe geologic period even today. Swooosh. Gone.

Tara W
Tara W11 months ago

This is scary. 2050 is right around the corner. Too many of the "powers that be" are still in denial and not taking action.