NPR: The Refugees The World Barely Pays Attention To

Attention on people displaced by environmental chaos is growing, but new international policies are toothless.

 “Things now are changing. It might become very difficult to stay here if things don’t improve,” says Maigari Lawal, the chief of Saidagyada village in northern Nigeria. “But God wants us to live here. It’s only God who can decide.” (Tim McDonnell)   

“Things now are changing. It might become very difficult to stay here if things don’t improve,” says Maigari Lawal, the chief of Saidagyada village in northern Nigeria. “But God wants us to live here. It’s only God who can decide.” (Tim McDonnell)

 

This month, diplomats from around the world met in New York and Geneva to hash out a pair of new global agreements that aim to lay out new guidelines for how countries should deal with an unprecedented surge in the number of displaced people, which has now reached 65.6 million worldwide.

But there's one emerging category that seems to be getting short shrift in the conversation: so-called "climate refugees," who currently lack any formal definition, recognition or protection under international law even as the scope of their predicament becomes more clear.

Since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by catastrophic weather disasters each year. As climate change worsens storms and droughts, climate scientists and migration experts expect that number to rise.

Meanwhile, climate impacts that unravel over time, like desert expansion and sea level rise, are also forcing people from their homes: A World Bank report in March projects that within three of the most vulnerable regions — sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America — 143 million people could be displaced by these impacts by 2050.

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