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

Transforming climate action

The Earth is teetering toward climate crisis. The ocean, more than anything, is helping to keep the balance. But emerging science shows the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon and regulate temperatures is changing in ways we don’t understand. It is a change that is not accounted for in global climate targets. It’s a risk we can no longer afford to take. The time has come to transform climate action.

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 flooding in Pakistan that has left hundreds of thousands homeless, as recent examples of climate-induced forced migration.

“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 the Transforming Climate Action research program will allow him to make policy recommendations informed by the latest climate science.

Scientists engaged in Transforming Climate Action 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.”

An ocean-first approach

Transforming Climate Action will bring together more than 170 researchers at Dalhousie and its academic partners to embark on the most intensive investigation into the ocean’s role in climate change ever undertaken. It will make Canada a global leader in climate science, innovation, and solutions by putting the ocean front and centre in the fight against a warming planet.

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