What Proportion of the World Is Expected to Be Displaced Due to Climate Change Within the Next 100 Years?

This blog post was written by Allison Krausman as part of the Spring 2018 UGA Urban Ecology class.

According to the United Nations, displacement is the process in which people are forced to move from their homes, environments, and place of work. There can be a variety of reasons for forced removal ranging from natural disasters, extreme scarcity of natural resources such as food and water, development, economic changes, and armed conflict. Displacement can come in several forms. Displacement due to development is a type of population displacement of which there are two types. Direct displacement is the physical removal of people from their homes while indirect displacement is removal due to loss of employment or not being able to provide for oneself and family. The number of internally displaced persons has caused global challenges as the reasons for removal are often the same as those of refugees. The difference is that these removed persons have not crossed an internationally recognized border. So even though these people can be affected by “war, civil conflict, political strife, and gross human right abuse,” they are not protected under international systems as refugees and there is no international entity entrusted with their protection or assistance (“Displaced Person / Displacement,” n.d.). Many individual governments do not have the policy or resources in place to deal with large numbers of displaced persons either. For the purpose of this article, we are focused on environmental displacement, specifically in response to development. According to Lunstrum, Bose, & Zalik (2016), environmental displacement is the process in which land becomes altered in such a way that proves impossible for living and accessing resources. Often times this has the largest effects on already vulnerable populations due to inconsistent implementation of rights, limited natural and financial resources, and no to minimal access to legal support.

Displacement is the process in which people are forced to move from their homes, environments, and place of work. Photo Credit: Alvin Decena via pexels.com

Humans have been shaping the environment since the beginning of the existence of our species. Perhaps the most significant changes in recent times are anthropogenic climate change, harvesting of resources, conservation of biodiversity, and habitat loss and remediation. As human modification increases, instances of desertification, extreme weather events, and sea level rise have begun to have very real consequences for people around the world (Lunstrum et al., 2016). Pollution stems from ecological degeneration and the introduction of toxins ranging from chemical dumping to combined sewage overflows making landscapes unlivable as well. Environmental issues are becoming a greater problem as population densities grow and environmental alterations encroach on human encampments. An increasing number of people are expected to be impacted as the effects of climate change, resource extraction, and conservation efforts play out. While estimates are far from perfect, due to the number of variables affecting these changes, it is commonly accepted that 200 million people will be affected by extreme weather events, droughts, sea-level rise, and flooding by 2050 with extreme estimates predicting as many as one billion people being affected. This translates to one in every 45 people across the planet being affected by catastrophic environmental events (Brown, 2008). The global human population is predicted to hit its peak around 9.075 billion by this 2050 mark and there is a current trend towards urban areas. 50% of all people live within 125 miles of coastline (Small & Cohen, 2004). Two-fifths of all major cities are located near the coast (Tibbetts, 2002). These numbers hint at the sheer number of people that will be affected by environmental displacement in relation to coastal issues alone.

Pollutants can travel for thousands of miles across physical, social, and regulatory boundaries. Photo credit: Markus Spiske via pexels.com

With an overwhelming number of the world’s inhabitants threatened by environmental displacement, there has been a movement towards managing environmental issues. There have been major obstacles in managing environmental issues in order to minimize future displacement. Ecosystems often extend through many physical, social, and regulatory boundaries making consistent and holistic regulation difficult. Ecological systems in urban areas are also subjected to the wills of many competing stakeholders ranging from agriculture to waste disposal to manufacturing (Tibbetts, 2002). Secular and government sectors both have difficulty collaborating and efficiently tackling problems at hand due to conflicting wants and needs. Waterways are affected hundreds of miles away from pollutant sources and noxious fumes can be carried thousands of miles through the atmosphere. As environmental stressors affect those in lands far from originating sources, there has been a greater widespread consensus that integrated approaches need to be taken across regions and organizations to tackle environmental issues and potentially reduce displacement (Tibbetts, 2002).

According to Clarke & Bettini of Lancaster University (2017), in order to properly respond to environmental issues, emphasis must be placed on human relations just as much as technical and economic support. They are convinced that care begins at the grassroots level. There has been a change in the response to environment-induced displacement from alarmism to that of “positive adaptations to changing conditions.” Nations are starting to promote research that will help make vulnerable populations more resilient to changes yet to come. There are many inequity issues as richer nations can afford more care and relief as seen in past natural disaster response (Clarke & Bettini, 2017). Clarke and Bettini (2017) also argue that in order to encourage equitable resilience in the face of displacement threats, “urban poor must be ‘equipped with an institutional framework that supports their efforts to increase resilience’” (as cited in Banks et al, 2011, p. 500). Planning and cooperation is essential in dealing with displacement issues. Since there are currently limited resources and cross-regional interaction, bridges between organizational units will need to be established and built in such a way that policy and research will support marginalized populations and plan for environmental displacement across the globe.


Brown, O. (2008). The numbers game. Forced Migration Review, 1(31), 8.

Christopher Small, a., & JoelE. Cohen, a. (2004). Continental Physiography, Climate, and the Global Distribution of Human Population1. Current Anthropology, (2), 269. doi:10.1086/382255

Clark, N., & Bettini, G. (2017). ‘Floods’ of migrants, flows of care: Between climate displacement and global care chains. Sociological Review, 6536-54. doi:10.1177/0081176917711078

Dieng, H. B., Cazenave, A., Meyssignac, B., & Ablain, M. (2017). New estimate of the current rate of sea level rise from a sea level budget approach. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(8), 3744-3751.

Displaced Person / Displacement. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2018, from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/displaced-person-displacement/

Lunstrum, E., Bose, P., & Zalik, A. (2016). Environmental displacement: the common ground of climate change, extraction and conservation. Area, 48(2), 130-133.

Tibbetts, J. (2002). Coastal cities: living on the edge. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(11), A674.

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