WorldClimate ChangeSummer 2021 Edition

The Effects of Climate Change and Migration Patterns in African and Oceanic States

Kiara McGaughey
Staff Writer

In recent years, the effects of climate change have become increasingly evident across the globe, with many regions of the world experiencing an increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters with historic changes in climate patterns. As such, modern climate change has drastically affected the livelihoods and safety of a large part of the world population. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, two of the most at-risk areas to climate changes are Africa and Oceania due to a variety of environmental, historical, and political factors. This vulnerability to climate change has caused a significant increase in migration from these areas, spawned mainly by environmental factors and the increased occurrence and severity of catastrophic natural disasters. 

Oceania, as a region of mostly island communities, is one of the most susceptible regions to climate change, particularly rising sea levels. According to scientists, rising sea levels could cause entire island states to become submerged underwater in the next 50-100 years, which would leave its inhabitants in a life-threatening need of mass relocation, The Guardian reports. According to Forbes, 8 islands in the region have already become completely engulfed, including some small coral atoll islands in Micronesia and The Solomon Islands. Though these islands were uninhabited, their submergence demonstrates the threat that rising sea levels pose to small island nations, with many at risk of becoming almost completely submerged. 

According to the Deutsche Welle, the rise in sea levels in countries such as Micronesia is also causing salt water to contaminate many countries’ aquifers, which hold the main sources of drinking water for large amounts of the population. Higher sea levels also increase the frequency and severity of extreme sea-related disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, and other like events, according to an article in The Annual Review of Anthropology. Coastal areas have already seen large increases in flooding, which has only grown more severe in recent years due to rising waters, displacing many people and destroying homes. 

Climate change has also had a devastating impact on the economies of many countries. According to Climate Analytics, frequent flooding has caused a decrease in tourist travel to island nations, many of which rely on tourism as a main source of income. Rising temperatures and changing acidity levels in oceans have also affected the fishing sector in many states, as the temperature changes have negatively affected swaths ocean wildlife. To further complicate the issue, research shows that ocean levels will likely continue to rise for centuries even after global temperatures stabilize, putting the safety of oceanic island nations at an even more severe and imminent risk, 

The vast number of issues caused by climate change in island nations has caused many people and whole communities to migrate from their former homes. Most people displaced by climate-related issues tend to relocate to other parts of their country; however, some are forced to migrate abroad, such as the case of a family applying for refugee status in New Zealand after having to leave Kiribati, an oceanic nation that has been subject to severe sea level rise, Brookings reports. The family argued for refugee status solely due to climate change, making it one of the few such cases. Though the High Court of New Zealand decided that one could not be considered a refugee based solely on factors of climate change, it shows the degree to which climate change is starting to affect the quality of life of many citizens of island nations. 

However, it is more common for migrants to leave their home countries due to imminent climate change or as the result of a climate disaster. As seen in Oceania, these patterns of migration are not linear and often come in sporadic bursts as natural disasters and other major climate events occur and affect the rate of migration, the Annual Review of Anthropology further explains. With an expected increase in the rate of severe climate events, as well as predictions that many island nations may one day be rendered almost completely inhabitable, it is widely believed that there will be a continued increase of migrants displaced by climate change in Oceania.

Africa is another region that has heavily been affected by climate change and climate stressors. Many climate experts and bodies such as the United Nations and the Climate Change Vulnerability Index consider Africa to be the most vulnerable region in the world to climate change. Historical factors like colonialism and current factors such as war, conflict, governmental changes, and politics have caused many African states to become poorly equipped to deal with exponential changes in climate. Many industries and cultures are very dependent on the globe’s current climate systems, such as rainfall patterns and other weather seasons, according to BBC.  Because the continent’s weather patterns are intertwined with large-scale climate systems, researchers are unsure what extreme weather events may occur in the future due to climate change. However, researchers can predict that there will be much less rainfall in the northern and southern regions of the continent by the end of the century, BBC further explains. 

In recent years, Africa’s monsoon seasons have shifted significantly due to global pollution, creating longer seasons of drought and heavier rains during wet seasons. Some areas in northern and southern Africa have been hit with severe droughts due to this alteration, leading to failed crop seasons that have caused famines and economical harm to states, industries, and individuals. Increasingly severe flooding has started occurring during wet seasons in East Africa, with some of the worst flooding appearing last year in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Rwanda. Over 260 people were killed and many homes and infrastructure were destroyed, leaving hundreds more homeless, according to BBC News

Coastal states such as South Africa and parts of Israel and Palestine have also experienced salinity issues in water supplies due to increased sea levels, much like what is occurring in island states, Deutsche Welle further explains. Air temperatures are also expected to rise by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the decade in regions in and around Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and other states where temperatures are already incredibly high, further stressing the area’s standard of living, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Heatstroke rates have already increased in some regions, and it is estimated that temperatures will only rise further. Eastern Africa is also predicted to have a continued increase in rainfall, which would lead to further flooding and natural disasters and only exacerbate the region’s economic struggles. 

Increases in such extreme weather patterns and natural disasters have made it overall much more difficult to live in parts of the continent, causing many to migrate to different regions of their state or to other states and continents.  The effects of climate change may cause some parts of the continent to become uninhabitable in the future due to changes in monsoons, sea level rises, and temperature changes, and some states may be severely impacted to the point of displacing millions of people. Currently, climate change has the biggest effect on migration around extreme natural disasters, which have become much more frequent and violent in shorter spans of time due to the changes in weather season patterns in regions across Africa, the BBC further reports. 

It is unknown how the world would handle a large climate-based migrant crisis, especially one in Oceania or Africa which would see vast numbers of people displaced and unable to return to their original settlements. Efforts to combat the predicted extreme climates have increased on a global scale, due to international treaties such as the Paris Agreement. Regions such as Africa, Oceania and other island nations have been given increased priority and urgency for climate relief by global governing organizations such as the UN due to how severely both regions have been affected, and the voices of these countries have been very influential in discussions on how to combat climate changes, the UN Chronicle reports. 

Though sea level rise is difficult to correct, scientists and countries are trying to find innovative solutions such as building large dams, a report by the BBC explains. Countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which have experienced water contamination due to sea level rise, are also working on ways to increase and conserve their freshwater reserves by desalinating sea water. piping systems, and regulating water prices. Smaller countries such as Micronesia also gather rainwater for better access to drinking water, as desalination plants in the country are relatively small and expensive to maintain. 

Many officials in the regions most affected, such as the President of the Republic of Maldives, urge the international community to combat climate change even further. Those who would not be willing to or able to relocate would become casualties of increased disasters and sea level rises. To prevent a migrant crisis from poor nations hit the hardest by climate change, all actors in the international system must recognize the dangers of ignoring the threat of rising temperatures.

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