In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that climate change would create 50 million climate refugees by 2010. These people, it was said, would flee a range of disasters including sea level rise, increases in the numbers and severity of hurricanes, and disruption to food production.
The UNEP even provided a handy map. The map shows us the places most at risk including the very sensitive low lying islands of the Pacific and Caribbean.
It so happens that just a few of these islands and other places most at risk have since had censuses, so it should be possible for us now to get some idea of the devastating impact climate change is having on their populations. Let’s have a look at the evidence:
Nassau, The Bahamas – The 2010 national statistics recorded that the population growth increased to 353,658 persons in The Bahamas. The population change figure increased by 50,047 persons during the last 10 years.
The island-nation of Saint Lucia recorded an overall household population increase of 5 percent from May 2001 to May 2010 based on estimates derived from a complete enumeration of the population of Saint Lucia during the conduct of the recently completed 2010 Population and Housing Census.
Population 2002, 81755
Population 2010, 88311
The latest Solomon Islands population has surpassed half a million – that’s according to the latest census results.
It’s been a decade since the last census report, and in that time the population has leaped 100-thousand.
Meanwhile, far from being places where people are fleeing, no fewer than the top six of the very fastest growing cities in China, Shenzzen, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhuhai, Puning and Jinjiang, are absolutely smack bang within the shaded areas identified as being likely sources of climate refugees.
Similarly, many of the fastest growing cities in the United States also appear within or close to the areas identified by the UNEP as at risk of having climate refugees.
More censuses are due to come in this year, and we await the results for Bangladesh and the Maldives – said to be places most at risk – with interest.
However, a very cursory look at the first available evidence seems to show that the places identified by the UNEP as most at risk of having climate refugees are not only not losing people, they are actually among the fastest growing regions in the world.
(Footnote: As requested, credit goes to the cartographer of the UNEP map, Emmanuelle Bournay.)
UPDATE: What’s it all about then? Find the response from the UNEP here and a theory as to why they were so keen about the 50 million refugees claim.
UPDATE: Some other published reactions to the story.
UPDATE: A little background about the claim.