Biden administration report foresees 'tens of millions' of climate change refugees in the coming decades

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A new Biden administration report paints a grim picture of the climate change future in which “tens of millions” of people are “likely to be displaced over the next two to three decades” because of the effects of rising global temperatures.

Early this year, President Biden signed an executive order commissioning the document, which is titled “Report on the Impact of Climate Change on Migration.” It was released Wednesday in an effort to prepare the U.S. for what experts predict will be a growing number of migrants due to climate change.

“Policy and programming efforts made today and in coming years will impact estimates of people moving due to climate-related factors,” the report said, which compiled the recommendations of federal agencies at the president's request. “Tens of millions of people, however, are likely to be displaced over the next two to three decades due in large measure to climate change impacts.”

In a separate national intelligence estimate released Thursday, the administration warned that geopolitical tensions are expected to worsen thanks to climate change, particularly in poorer nations, and will “exacerbate the risks to U.S. national security interests.”

Eleven countries were identified in the estimate as being at high risk of climate disruption that could lead to a flood of migration: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea and Pakistan.

Haitian migrants
Migrants, most of them Haitians, cross the dangerous border between Panama and Colombia daily. (Jorge Calle/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In April, Vice President Kamala Harris identified climate change and its effects as one of several root causes that have increased migration from Central America to the United States.

“We are looking at extensive storm damage because of extreme climate, we’re looking at drought in an area in a region where agriculture is one of the most traditionally important basis for their economy, we’re looking at what’s happening in terms of food scarcity as a result of that and, in fact, incredible food insecurity, which we used to call hunger food insecurity,” she said.

The Biden administration continues to grapple with how to handle a surge of migrants across the U.S. southern border, continuing to rely on the Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which permits the deportation of those seeking asylum on the grounds that they represent a threat to public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wednesday's report on migration, however, sounded a different note about the coming climate refugees.

“When migration presents as the preferable form of adaptation, or in situations when people are forced to flee the impacts of climate change, the United States has a compelling national interest in strengthening global protection for these displaced individuals and groups,” the report states.

As has become clear over the past few years as extreme weather disasters continue to pile up, the effects of climate change are already happening. According to reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, weather-related hazards displaced an average of 21.5 million people worldwide between 2008 and 2016.

“No country will be spared the challenges directly related to climate change,” a senior Biden administration official said in a Wednesday call regarding the release of the new report.


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