Reaction to the 50 million climate refugee prediction
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Reaction to the 50 million climate refugee prediction

Asian Correspondent’s story, What happened to the climate refugees? has climbed to the top of the technorati charts for environmental stories, and received international coverage. There have been some fascinating responses from the United Nations Environment Programme.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

The program’s spokesman tells us the map vanished because “it’s not a UNEP prediction. . . . that graphic did not represent UNEP views and was an oversimplification of UNEP views.” He added that the program would like to publish a clarification, now that journalists are “making hay of it,” except that the staffers able to do so are “all on holiday for Easter.”

As we’ve noted before, the map showing 50 million climate refugees by 2010 was created by a UNEP cartographer and released by UNEP and the figure was repeatedly mentioned by them, so a disavowal of it is more than a little strange. UNEP has in fact had days to respond already and have come up with nothing of substance.

As The Australian newspaper reported:

The map has since been removed because it was “causing confusion”, a UNEP spokesman reportedly told the German news website Spiegel Online. Professor of migration and refugee law at the University of NSW Jane McAdam, who has followed the controversy, said the original figure of 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010 derived from questionable calculations by the Oxford University academic Norman Myers.

“My understanding is that Norman Myers looked at a map of the world, and he said which are the hotspots that we think are going to be affected by climate change; then he looked up the projected populations for those areas in 2010 and 2050 and added them up,” she said.

“That’s how he got to such a figure, because he didn’t take into account that some people wouldn’t move.”

Professor McAdam said she thought Professor Myers would never have expected his predictions to be “taken up so widely”.

Now hold on one second. The academic who made the false prediction about 50 million climate refugees got it wrong because he didn’t take into account that some people wouldn’t move? Sorry, at this point, words fail me.

Although – it should be pointed out – Professor McAdam is not the source of the error, the suggestion that an academic can publish or tell the media anything if they don’t expect a prediction to be taken up so widely strikes me as something less than optimal.

Professor McAdam also provides this puzzling quote:

“If a person can carry 40kg and climate change adds the extra kilo, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Professor McAdam said.

Some straw.

University of Melbourne academic, Professor Barnett also casts doubt on some other predictions:

Professor Barnett said that similar predictions by the EU’s Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios project were also unreliable, and that the figure of 190 million total international migrations each year put Professor Myers’ 2050 claim in context.

“There would have to be a doubling of international migration by 2050 – it’s impossible to prove,” he said.

Personally, I found googling census data to be really, really easy, but I guess I’m no Professor of Geography.

But seriously – isn’t it the job of academics to look carefully at statistics of human migration? Why is it that predictions about climate refugees are so readily accepted, but actual studies into the phenomenon appear to be non-existent?