Dalhousie University
Canada First Research Excellence
Fund 2022 candidate
Confronting a crisis of
climate-induced displacement
Forced migration an opportunity for Canadian leadership
Dr Kiran Banerjee
We’ve made no progress dealing with the climate-induced migration that promises to displace people at a scale of magnitude that far exceeds anything we have seen before. Future challenges require a better understanding of what climate changes are coming so the global community can respond.
Canada Research Chair in Forced Migration Governance and Refugee Protection
Dalhousie University

Transformational funding

There is evidence that the ocean’s ability to filter carbon from the atmosphere is changing. As a result, global climate goals are likely well off the mark. With support from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Dalhousie and its academic and industry partners will find solutions and make Canada a global leader in the science to avert climate change.

Dr Kiran Banerjee
Dr. Kiran Banerjee.

Each time Dr. Kiran Banerjee presents on the topic of forced migration he knows he must update his notes to reckon with the increasingly grim reality of the situation. In a matter of months, the numbers of the globally displaced leap by millions.

“Unfortunately, a word I repeat frequently in my work is unprecedented.  We’ve crossed the 100-million-mark for the number of people currently displaced in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It’s an incredibly significant number in terms of the global population which is affected by displacement at this point.”

A stark future awaits

The current number of forced migrants amounts to the fourteenth largest country on Earth, equivalent to 1 per cent of the world population, and well over double the total population of Canada. A recent news release from the UNHCR reports that weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones resulted in some 23.7 million internal displacements in 2021, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr. Banerjee points to the civil war in Syria, a conflict spurred in part by drought, and the current flooding in Pakistan that has left hundreds of thousands homeless, as recent examples of climate-induced forced migration. He says these are just the first sign of a situation that threatens to overwhelm the world if we don’t begin to contend with the increasing pressures of extreme weather and conflict over scarce resources sparked by climate change.

“The future climate-induced challenges that we can see require a truly global response and we really have nothing in place in terms of formal mechanisms.”

Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees arrive at Bardarash camp in Duhok, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in 2019. © UNHCR/Hossein Fatemi

Building on a tradition of Canadian leadership

Dr. Banerjee says that Canada’s past leadership provides the country with an opportunity to advance and mobilize new policy frameworks focused on future impacts of global warming.

“As one of the world’s largest re-settlers of refugees, Canada is positioned very well to speak with moral authority toward the need for increased governance, increased international cooperation, and increased global solidarity,” he says.

“But of course, there is a need to ramp-up this thinking quickly because the projections regarding climate-induced migration are at a scale of magnitude that far exceeds anything we’ve seen thus far.”

Flooding in Pakistan
Bahadur Khan and his family had only minutes to flee their home in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province before it was swept away by flooding. © UNHCR/Usman Ghani

Informed by climate science

Dr. Banerjee says that connecting his research to Dalhousie and its partners’ Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) application will allow him to make policy recommendations informed by the latest climate science.

Scientists engaged in the CFREF aim to use an unprecedented data-driven approach to track the ocean’s changing ability to absorb and sequester carbon. Global carbon reduction targets anticipate the ocean to remain unchanged as Earth’s most important carbon sink. It’s a significant risk as recent science shows dramatic deviations are afoot.

“The work being done by my more STEM-minded colleagues can provide a framework for understanding how urgent it is to develop new policies and mechanisms to contend with climate induced migration. It will clarify the severity of the events that we’ve had and how limited our predictive capacity has been up to now,” says Dr. Banerjee.

“Ideally, we want to develop long term frameworks based on science for something that is going to become only a more enduring aspect of global politics.”

Transformational funding

Dalhousie University and its research partners L’Université du Québec à Rimouski, Université Laval and Memorial University are seeking support from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to ensure the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere is accounted for in global climate goals. Together, the universities are the world’s most productive ocean research team, capable of bringing the most sophisticated science to the Earth’s most pressing challenge.

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